University of Iowa researchers adjust to damage at Bowen Science Building

Sunday’s fire in Bowen Science Building has left Paul Heidger wishing he had cleared out a lot more stuff from his campus office during the five years since he became an emeritus professor.

“The email I got from my chairman was ... ‘Paul, best you come in and check your office as soon as possible because there was a fire and lots of water damage within our department. And your office was right under ground zero,’” said Heidger, who taught for 38 years in the University of Iowa Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology. “So I’ve experienced something I didn’t expect in retirement.”

A sprinkler system helped contain the fire within the second-floor lab space where it began, but water from the sprinklers and the firefighting flowed down through Heidger’s office to the subbasements below in the 45-year-old research building.

“When I opened the door on Monday morning, I was greeted with just the sodden mess,” Heidger said.

Heidger’s computer and backup storage discs were “in the direct line of the waterfall.” The deluge also filtered its way through four decades worth of anatomy illustrations, slides, research data, journals, textbooks and historic memorabilia.

The damage first-floor office like Heidger's is not included in the $500,000 initial estimate for the damage directly caused by Sunday’s fire. At about 5:45 p.m. Sunday, an alarm notified UI public safety about a possible fire on the second floor of Bowen, 51 Newton Road. The Iowa City Fire Department responded and extinguished the flames within about 20 minutes.

University officials said Monday that they are working to determine the logistics for the researchers with lab space in the affected areas. No classes are expected to be impacted.

Built in 1972, Bowen Science Building remains one of the university’s most actively used research spaces. UI officials updated the Iowa Board of Regents last week about long-term plans for a $30 million renovation of the building.

No one was hurt in Sunday’s fire, and the cause remains under investigation.

“The research conducted in this area is predominantly medical and nonhazardous in nature,” Hayley Bruce, a spokeswoman for UI public safety, said Monday via email. “Some of the research has been temporarily interrupted, but at this time no data has been lost.”

UI officials sent out an internal message to affected personnel Monday asking them to observe the following instructions: 

  • Stop cleaning impacted areas. The university is working with a vendor trained in mitigation.
  • Stop moving equipment from impacted areas.
  • Stop propping open doors.
  • Wear appropriate attire, including gloves and closed-toe shoes.

UI officials declined Tuesday to say which vendor was being used.

"When the investigation is complete, and we have had a chance to communicate with those directly impacted, we will be happy to provide more information," Bruce said via email Tuesday.

Heidger said his office is to be cleared out by Thursday. He doesn’t expect any data to be retrieved from his drenched computer, but he said, “they have had some success with the backup discs.”

Although officially retiring in 2012, Heidger has remained active with the department. He serves as student adviser for an annual joint undergraduate research training program with Lincoln University near Philadelphia.

“I’m just grateful the department gives me this opportunity to continue both my academic and teaching pursuits in retirement,” he said.

Reach Jeff Charis-Carlson at jcharisc@press-citizen.com or 319-887-5435. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffCharis.

(Full article found at: Press-Citizen)

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