Out in the open or behind the scenes, signs of infrastructure development point to a revitalized UI campus
Monday, November 26, 2012

Construction cranes dot the skyline. Miles of cable and pipe snake underground. Shipments of wood chips replace loads of coal.

The signs of changing University of Iowa campus infrastructure are everywhere. Expect to see many more in the years ahead.

“We’ve never experienced this level of development and change to campus, and it’s likely to prove a unique period in the university’s history,” says Rod Lehnertz, director of planning, design, and construction for Facilities Management (FM).

When it comes to construction, it’s not just a matter of scale, but also diversity of projects. Arts facilities will replace buildings lost to the 2008 flood. The first new residence hall in 40 years (and another planned to follow) will rise west of the Iowa River. A new Children’s Hospital will mark a milestone for plans to reshape the hospital complex.

Additional projects will bring new research space, high-tech learning environments, and athletics facilities. At the same time, revamped utilities systems will prioritize reliability, savings, and sustainability, while information technology initiatives will integrate services, deliver more secure data storage, and expand computing power.

Whether readily apparent or behind the scenes, the markers of change promise jobs, innovation, and opportunities for generations of students and scholars.

Economic impact, local partnerships

Some of the university’s current and pending infrastructure projects stem from long-term plans. Others—notably arts campus renewal and ongoing flood-recovery initiatives—emerge from unforeseen events or unexpected opportunities.

Together, they require energy, coordination, and flexibility from university units, contractors, and other partners. With increased activity will come additional congestion and other inconveniences, all part of the challenges facing FM.

“Most of our construction phases will hit at once, and we’ll see major projects all across campus,” says Don Guckert, associate vice president and director of FM. “For the next several years, we'll be tripling our normal level of construction.”

Guckert and colleagues expect to bid nearly $1 billion in construction over the next 18 months. The projects will create an estimated 2,000 jobs every year for the next five years.

Annual report 2012: The changing face of campus

Here's a rundown of the topics that will be featured in this year's annual report:

An overview of the changing face of campus
A letter from President Sally Mason
Year in review: Our people
Financials at-a-glance

Expanding health care's reach
Space exploration continues to be university territory
Year in review: Our discoveries

The art of recovery
Athletics places priority on practice space
Year in review: Our pursuits

Not your traditional residence hall
Strength in sustainability
Year in review: Our community

The year in photos
Changes in diversity

UI initiatives coincide with other major construction projects throughout the Iowa City area. Wherever possible, university and community leaders are joining forces.

“We’ve seldom seen such a high level of partnership, due in part to the challenges we’ve weathered together,” Lehnertz says. “We’re much more in sync, and that’s critical.”

One example: Iowa City’s effort to raise Dubuque Street and replace the Park Road bridge. UI staff are on the planning team for the project, which will help protect Mayflower Hall against future floods. Design for the new bridge also will echo elements of the university’s replacement Hancher facility, sited just to the west.

“The university also has shared its flood model with communities along the river,” Guckert says. “It helps all of us plan for the long term by allowing us to see how various proposed projects will both impact and withstand future flooding risks.”

Sustainable utilities

Enhancements to campus utilities systems also take the long view.

“These are strategic investments,” Guckert says. “We need to keep pace with day-to-day demands, but also be increasingly prepared to deliver more backup power to critical facilities."

FM staff also cite a shift toward renewable energy sources, in keeping with the UI's 2020 Vision targets.

“We want to reach our 40 percent renewable energy goal by the end of the decade,” says Glen Mowery, director of utilities and energy management for FM. “We’re gradually replacing coal with biomass, including oat hulls and wood chips."

The UI has joined public and private partners to develop a regional biomass market, one that will produce biomass fuel streams that don't compete with agricultural crops. “We want to keep dollars spent on fuel in Iowa,” Mowery says.

The university’s Oakdale Campus has become a hub for sustainable energy initiatives. New Oakdale facilities expand the utilities network, but also inspired the goal of making the site a 100 percent green energy campus.

Using an Oakdale-based research gasifier, UI graduate students and FM staff explore ways to create energy from virtually anything, including waste otherwise destined for the landfill. Other projects are looking to geothermal, photovoltaic, wind, and “neothermal,” an innovative technology being pioneered on several new buildings that increases the heating efficiency for buildings and the cooling efficiency of the chilled-water system.

“Students benefit from seeing how we’re putting renewables to use,” Guckert says. “They see the technology at work, but also the partnerships behind these projects.”

IT infrastructure

In early 2012, Oakdale was the site of another sustainability milestone—the opening of the Information Technology Facility, the first UI building to earn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification.

The building provides a secure home for vital computing and networking equipment. It’s a centerpiece of projects that are modernizing the university’s information technology infrastructure.

“We’re doing a lot of things that we wouldn’t have been able to if people and programs hadn’t come together,” says Steve Fleagle, associate vice president and chief information officer.

That includes integrating student records, building new research computing clusters, and reimagining the ground floor of the Main Library as a tech-infused space for teaching and learning.

MAUI (short for “Made at the University of Iowa”) replaces and unites record systems that had evolved independently over decades, often outgrowing their respective technology platforms. Major pieces—including admissions and degree audit systems—will come online in December.

On the research side, the university unveiled a high-performance computing cluster dubbed Helium in early 2011. Another cluster—Neon—is in the works. Investigators in biomedical engineering, hydroscience, physics and astronomy, and other fields use the systems to crunch data that previously would have been fed to supercomputers at other institutions.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"iowanow_large","fid":null,"attributes":{"alt":"rendering of Main Library Learning Commons","class":"media-image","id":"11","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]Slated to open in fall 2013, the Main Library Learning Commons will feature 18 group study spaces, 100 desktop and laptop computers, a 45-seat TILE (Transform, Interact, Learn, Engage) classroom with glass walls and sliding doors, printers and scanners, TVs and projectors, and multimedia resources.

By late 2013, the Main Library Learning Commons will provide a new intellectual hub for students. The 40,000-square-foot space will include 100 computers and a 45-seat TILE (Transform, Interact, Learn, Engage) classroom, one of several such facilities that encourage students and faculty alike to explore new methods.

“The TILE projects have been successful because faculty find creative ways to use them,” Fleagle says. “They work with each other and discover what’s possible.”

Focus on efficiency and collaboration

Creative thinking, meticulous planning, and sheer persistence make all these projects possible.

“We’re on a steady course,” Guckert says regarding post-flood projects. “Some progress takes time due to the complexities involved—the university, FEMA, and Iowa Homeland Security have been pushed to the limits, but we’ve continually pressed forward.”

In tight budget times, efficiency and collaboration take precedence.

“We couldn’t do what we’re doing today if we hadn’t spent the last seven years refining management systems and dissolving silos,” says Lehnertz about changes within FM. “Planning, design, construction, utilities, landscape, and other areas are all working in tandem, closely coordinating efforts to deliver cost-effective, efficient, and serviceable facilities.”

Likewise, Information Technology Services (ITS) is looking to break down organizational barriers.

“We’re developing a collaboration matrix to help us report what we’re doing and find connections with other units,” Fleagle says. “We want to better identify what’s been done, what we want to do immediately, and what’s longer term. Ultimately, we want to get people together and start working.”

Units like ITS and FM have particular roles to play, but big changes depend on support—and sometimes patience—from the whole university community.

“It’s going to be an ‘excuse-our-dust’ period,” Lehnertz says. “A generation of students is going to remember cranes, trucks, and fencing as part of their campus experience.”

But the payoff will be worth it. A revitalized UI campus will address contemporary challenges and position the university for whatever comes next.