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Release: Nov. 21, 2001

UI begins cleanup from Old Capitol fire, Vilsack will tour building today

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack will tour the inside of the Old Capitol at the University of Iowa today to assess damages from yesterday's fire that destroyed the landmark gold dome.

Accompanying Vilsack will be UI Provost Jon Whitmore, Vice President for Research and Interim Vice President for University Relations David Skorton, Vice President for Student Services Philip Jones, and Vice President for Finance and University Services Doug True. Media representatives are invited to join the tour and should meet on the south side of the Old Capitol building at 1:45 p.m.

Iowa City fire marshal Roger Jensen today estimated that the fire caused $1.5-2 million in damages. He said the exact cause of the fire has not yet been determined pending additional interviews with eyewitnesses.

Dozens of workers today began cleaning up the interior of the building, which sustained water and smoke damage, and two cranes on the Pentacrest lawn began the painstaking process of removing the metal construction scaffolding surrounding the charred remains of the dome and cupola piece-by-piece.

Jensen said a concrete firewall, installed between the roof and the dome structure during a 1920s-era restoration project, was critical in preventing the flames from reaching the building below. "The fire was precariously close to igniting a great supply of heavy timber below the dome, the big, heavy timbers that are the construction beams in the building," Jensen said. "There would have been a great deal of energy released had the fire gotten going in that attic space.

"This could have been a whole lot worse," Jensen said.

He said there is significant water damage in the middle of the building, directly below the dome area, but the House and Senate Chambers escaped serious damage. Power has been restored in much of the building, Jensen said, but he could not estimate when UI employees might be able to return to their basement offices.

Steve Parrott, director of university relations, said the university and the state are indebted to the Iowa City Fire Department, whose quick action helped to save the building and the invaluable historical artifacts housed there.

"We all owe a big thanks to the Iowa City Fire Department, because in addition to battling the fire, firefighters were working inside the building to move furniture away from where the water was coming through and laid tarps over items that couldn't be moved," Parrott said. "They really made the best of a bad situation."

Archivists from the University Libraries and from the department of cultural affairs in the State Historical Society today will assess the condition of the historical artifacts and decide whether to remove them from the building during the cleanup and rebuilding.

George Hollins, UI director of design and construction, said a crew was brought in Tuesday night to begin vacuuming water from the building floors and attic. Water is still soaking in the ceilings and walls, he said, and a truck will be brought in to dehumidify the building.

Hollins added that while reconstructing the dome and cupola is still a long way off, the project will be aided by the fact that pieces of the original cupola trim had been removed during the restoration project. Having those pieces intact, he said, will be a tremendous help in recreating the original design.

At the time of the fire, the Old Capitol dome and exterior surfaces were undergoing an $895,000 renovation consisting, in part, of some 12,000 feet of wooden surfaces. The work involved stripping old paint, repairing broken and rotten wood and recoating the wooden portions of the building. Also included were removal of asbestos, placement of new liners for gutters, repair of flashing installation of attic vents and other work.