University of Iowa Looks to Restore Landmark IMU With Help from FEMA

By: Wiley Schatz

The Iowa Memorial Union at the University of Iowa used to be described as the “center of student life.”  Since the Iowa Flood of 2008 however, that has not been the case.  After a devastating flood, the Iowa Memorial Union has had to have many of its features removed, resulting in a large drop in its appeal to students.

The University of Iowa Student Government though along with other university groups, hopes to change that by restoring the Iowa Memorial Union to what it once was and more.

“My freshman year was the year before the flood, and the IMU was the heart of student life,” says President of University of Iowa Student Government John Rigby.  “Students used it to study, eat, even to take naps… we’re really trying to get people to know that it is available and what a good recourse it can be for students.”

We Can Rebuild It

In order to attract more students to the IMU, University of Iowa Student Government has a few ideas they are working on.

“The most important thing for us trying to revamp the IMU and bring it back to the pre-flood level would be the 24 hour availability of it to all students,” says University of Iowa Student Government President John Rigby.  “I think for a long time this campus this campus has lacked that 24 hour building that is accessible to anyone.”

Outside The Iowa Memorial Union, Photo from:

In fact, the University of Iowa is one of the few Big-10 schools that currently do not have a building on campus open 24 hours every day to all students.  “There will always be a set of doors open along with not all of the building open but most of it, there is an ITC that’s available and plenty of open study space, great for both group and individual studiers.”

Round the clock availability is only part of the plan that to revitalize the IMU.  Making the bottom floor accessible for students again is essential to the buildings restoration.

“That area was kind of the ‘main street’ for the building,” says Associate Vice President and Dean of Students David Grady who has been visiting other Big-10 campuses in order to look at what other student unions offer, “we had about 12,000 people through the building every day before the flood and that was the buisiest area.”

“This Spring hopefully we can get the ball rolling on some of the plans that IMU services has,” says Rigby, “the lower level is going to be complexly redone with a bowling ally and just a bunch of stuff.”

A bowling ally would not be something completely new to the Iowa Memorial Union.  There actually was a bowling alley there in the 1980s, which was later taken out. After a student poll, putting a new bowling alley in the IMU was determined to be a good non-alcoholic alternative for students.

Amongst the “bunch of stuff” planned for the lower level of the IMU outside of the bowling alley, would be mainstream restaurants for students.  Jamba Juice is one the services that is being considered along with other café style food for students.

“Probably the first thing you’ll see on the ground floor is the bookstore,” says Grady, “we hope to have that back by the spring of 2012… the main thing we want to do is get educational materials in the hands of students, that’s our primary function.”

Expanded study areas are also very important, as the “Hawkeye Room” will be re-opened for students to lounge in during the day.

That’ll Cost a Pretty Penny

A project like this does not happen for free, and The University of Iowa is relying on FEMA for coming up for the majority of the funding for the Iowa Memorial Union’s restoration.  In the way of funding the Iowa Memorial Union though is funding for other buildings on campus such as Hancher Auditorium, the Voxman Music Building, and the Art museum.  Also, the university needs to prove that it wont let what happened in 2008 happen again.

The Iowa Memorial Union durring the flood of 2008, Poto from:

“FEMA requires you to have a plan to keep the disaster from happening again,” says Grady, “so we’ve got a mitigation plan that includes surrounding the building with a flood wall at varying heights.  Another thing we’re going to do is build a terrace outside the River Room so that people could walk outside to eat or study.  It will be a nice view that overlooks the river.”

Now that we are over two years removed from the flood, the majority of undergraduates at The University of Iowa have not experienced the Iowa Memorial Union as the central hub of student activity it once was.

“That’s one of the reasons were really pushing to get the IMU back up and functioning because it’s a critical part of students’ career,” says Grady, “ a college union is really a laboratory where you can apply what you’ve learned inside the classroom to a real life situation.”

Another reason why restoring the Iowa Memorial Union is seen as so important is because it serves to bring together students that otherwise would remain separate.

“The Union helps develop a community; if you’re in Adler or other campus buildings you’re surrounded by just people within those majors,” says Grady, “here its people from all different sides of campus… being that center of op    portunity is one of the things that’s missing.”

This will not be the first time that the Iowa Memorial Union has gone through major renovations.  In fact, this will be the sixth major renovation it has seen in its history.  Considering how many students have not experienced what the Iowa Memorial Union is all about, this might be the most important renovation of all.

Surely the IMU’s traffic will pick back up after the renovations are planned to be finished in the spring of 2013.


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