Dedicating a building site to worker safety
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This tree grows in living memory of Jack T. Hain, Glen A. Heeren, and Oscar Tappan, Jr. who lost their lives in an accident at the construction site of Hancher Auditorium, December 1970. —Text on memorial plaque near original Hancher Auditorium building
University of Iowa’s Hancher will honor the memory of workers who died in an accident during the construction of the original Hancher Auditorium and dedicate the site of its new building to the safety of its construction workers during a site ceremony from 4 to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 29.
Employees of Mortensen Construction, construction manager, along with employees of the project’s primary contractors, have been invited to the ceremony, which will include a short march from the old building, which was destroyed in the flood of 2008, to the site of the new one. The ceremony is free and open the public as well.
Performers from San Jose Taiko, an Asian Japanese-American drumming and rhythm group, will lead the march. San Jose Taiko founder Roy Hirabayashi will play the flute while another favorite Hancher performer, UI graduate and Iowa City native Rinde Eckert, recites some “poetic prose” commissioned for the event.
Hirabayashi deserves much of the credit for the program, says Chuck Swanson, Hancher executive director.
“I called him to ask if we could commission a piece to help make the ground safe for the workers. Roy suggested that we use a piece of theirs called 'Taiko Peace'—for which Roy plays the flute while his wife, P.J., recites a poem—but we could commission someone who knows Hancher well to write a poem for this occasion," Swanson says. "Rinde Eckert came to mind almost immediately as the person to write the poem.”
It was also Hirabayashi who suggested the march from the old Hancher to the site of the new Hancher. Swanson recalled, "Roy says, ‘There’s so much energy, so much history at that old building that we would love to start there and transfer that energy and history to the new site.'”
Getting the construction manager and employees on board was easy.
“We have participated and orchestrated many groundbreaking ceremonies over our history, but this event is unique that acknowledges both old Hancher as well as those workers that were tragically killed,” says Randy Clarahan of Mortensen Construction, noting that “safety on our jobsite is a foundational belief.”
Invitations have been extended to the contractor’s own employees as well as those of subcontractors and based on early indications, a large contingent of workers will attend.
That doesn’t surprise Clarahan. “A project like Hancher comes along once in a lifetime for us,” he says. “Hancher has built a great reputation for excellence. Everyone that we speak to wants to be a part of this so they can tell their family members that they helped build the new Hancher.”
Eckert has expressed a similar enthusiasm for the event. Despite living in Iowa City when Hancher was originally built, he says he was then “a callow youth … too caught up in the difficulty of growing up” to be aware of the deaths of the construction workers. “I look forward to reviewing the occasion from this mature remove, able as I am now to feel the weight of it.”
The artist is especially pleased to participate because he loves the location of the new Hancher, which allows it to continue to serve as a “beacon” for people coming into Iowa City.
“The old Hancher was the first thing one saw upon entering the city from I-80 on Dubuque Street,” he says. “In that important place, it stood as a testament to the importance we in Iowa City placed on the arts. I was always thrilled at night to see it glowing there as a promise of the elevation of the spirit. I liked having to walk to it. I liked that it was removed from the quotidian bustle of commerce, that it required some effort of me. One journeyed to it. One saw it as a special destination.”
Eckert isn’t the only one who thinks of Hancher as a special destination. Thanks to the efforts of another UI alum, during the week of June 29, the U.S. Postal Service will unveil a new postcard of “Hancher Station,” based on a work of art by the pop artist known as Nicolosi. A graduate of the UI College of Dentistry, Nicolosi is well known for his portraits of celebrities such as Meryl Streep, Beyoncé, Frank Sinatra, Eddie Murphy, and Jack Nicholson.
Seating will not be provided during the ceremony so those planning to attend the June 29 event are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs or blankets.
Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all UI-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires a reasonable accommodation in order to participate in this program, contact Hancher Director of Patron Services Connie Tipsword in advance at 319-335-1140 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.