UI requests state funding to restore Pentacrest buildings

The University of Iowa will seek approval from the state Board of Regents to request $88.7 million from the state Legislature for the Pentacrest modernization.


Tom Jorgensen

The University of Iowa Campus looking west from Old Capitol and the Pentacrest.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

The University of Iowa is looking to proceed with a project to renovate three buildings that sit atop the Pentacrest — the iconic space at the heart of campus known for its limestone structures and ample grassy lounging space.

The UI will request approval from the state Board of Regents at its Sept. 18 and 19 meeting to move forward with its Pentacrest modernization project of three of its five buildings after a 10-year delay. Since their construction more than a century ago, MacBride, MacLean, and Jessup Halls have not been renovated. 

The request for $88.7 million, to be spent over the next five years, aims to restore those three historic buildings on the Pentacrest. 

The two other buildings on the Pentacrest, the Old Capitol and Schaeffer Hall, have been restored within the last 20 years. 

The modernization project will begin with MacLean Hall and is expected to be completed within eight to 10 years. With this project’s approval, $30 million in deferred maintenance funds would be saved, a cost that is otherwise expected to rise to $44 million in five years. 

If it receives state funding, the UI intends to contribute its own additional $30 million to the project. 

According to regents’ documents, the goal of the project is to move student-oriented activities to the center of campus while at the same time modernizing buildings that are historic to the university. Reducing the deferred maintenance costs, as well as using campus space more efficiently, are also important aspects of the project. 

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The documents said the UI was originally given $13 million in state funding for the modernization project in 2007. However, following the 2008 floods, funds were redirected towards severely damaged buildings. With the completion of the final flood-recovery project, the UI wants to begin the modernization project. 

“Investing in these buildings means we will be able to serve more students in a central location, and that is an investment in student success,” UI Provost Montserrat Fuentes said in a statement.  

The three buildings at the center of the project, if approved, would transition from 67 percent classrooms and academic space to 100 percent, according to regents’ documents. The exteriors of the buildings would also be restored but in a way that avoids affecting their historical features. 

The project would make the buildings more accessible to those with impaired mobility, upgrade classrooms, update the electrical systems to be more energy-efficient, and replace outdated heating and cooling systems, according to the documents.

Currently, Jessup Hall houses most of the UI administrative offices. The renovations will relocate these offices to Calvin and Jefferson Halls, to open Jessup for classrooms. The UI said it plans to modernize and repurpose both Jefferson and Calvin Halls in preparation for this change.

If the regents approve the UI’s request, the next step will be for the state Legislature to approve or deny the request during its next session in January 2020. 

“These buildings are historic in nature and are extremely valuable to the university,” UI Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz said in a statement. “They’re keepers, and you want to put the programs back into buildings that belong there long-term.”

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