Aug. 18, 2011

Roof view

The Iowa Braille School's historic Old Main building sustained the heaviest damage from a July 11 storm. Nearly the entire roof and its support structure were swept away. Contributed photo.

ISU's disaster recovery experience helping at Iowa Braille School

by Erin Rosacker

A year ago, facilities planning and management personnel were responding to the aftermath of a record-setting flood that damaged several parts of the Iowa State campus. That emergency response and recovery experience has played an important role in the work being done at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton, which suffered extensive storm damage last month.

State Board of Regents policy designates Iowa State as overall administrator of capital projects for its special schools and the Lakeside Laboratory near Spencer. That means staff members in FPM, purchasing, environmental health and safety, and risk management help coordinate construction projects at those sites.

Dean McCormick, FPM director for design and construction services, and Bob Catus, FPM senior construction manager, have been working nearly full time on the Iowa Braille School's recovery. Catus still treks to Vinton at least once a week to oversee the efforts. FPM project manager Robert Holzwarth also is involved.

Old Main

Iowa Braille School's Old Main building. Contributed photo.

Emergency response

In the early hours of July 11, strong winds swept through Vinton, causing heavy damage to the town and the school. More than 150 trees were downed and none of the school's 11 buildings were left unscathed.

"Every building on that campus was damaged to some extent," McCormick said. "Old Main had the most significant damage, where two-thirds of the roof literally left the building -- structure and all."

Fortunately, there were no injuries. McCormick said most of the school's buildings and residence halls currently are leased by AmeriCorps, a national community service organization. He said more than 100 AmeriCorps staffers are living on site.

Wind, flying debris and trees caused damage to windows, screens, roofs and gutters throughout campus. Interior water damage also must be repaired. McCormick said most of the recovery work should be complete by the end of the year, with the exception of Old Main. Currently, all but one of the buildings (The Cottage) are back in use.

Old Main, completed in 1865, houses the school's administration and classrooms. Temporary restoration work will protect the building through the winter months, but a long-term solution for the building still is being considered by the regents.

Cooperative effort

McCormick is quick to point out the immediate response by the University of Iowa, which was early to the scene with equipment -- including much-needed generators during a days-long power outage.

"Iowa responded right away. They have proximity of equipment and manpower," McCormick said. "This has been a very cooperative effort with the University of Iowa.

"We've applied a lot of lessons that were learned a year ago. It's unfortunate that Iowa State and the University of Iowa have a certain amount of disaster recovery experience."