Honoring Stuit while preserving piece of history

F.W. Kent Collection of Photographs University of Iowa Archives The University of Iowa Libraries

Two years ago, the University of Iowa’s Old Music Building was in a state of dilapidation. Built in 1915 as an isolation ward for the original University Hospital, the historic building had become a bit of an eyesore, scarred with brickwork patches and peeling paint. Several floors sat empty because of safety concerns. It was time to decide whether to knock it down or fix it up.

The University opted to preserve a piece of history by renovating the blond brick building, located at the corner of Gilbert and Jefferson streets. In a 17-month, $3.7 million project, it was restored to serve as a hub for the clinical psychology program, part of the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS).

It now bears the name Stuit Hall—a tribute to the late Dewey Stuit, a UI psychology professor who served as dean of liberal arts for three decades. Stuit led the college through the rapid postwar growth of higher education. Undergraduate enrollment nearly doubled, from 6,500 in 1947 to 12,000 in 1977, and the areas of study grew from 28 to 57. During his tenure, the honors program was established, and he instituted student evaluations of faculty and faculty self-governance bylaws.

“I am delighted that Dewey Stuit’s name will continue to be honored on the UI campus through the naming of this historic building, a building that he knew as the home of important programs in the college during his 30-year tenure as dean of liberal arts,” says CLAS dean Linda Maxson. “We continue to be grateful to Dean Stuit, not only for his distinguished leadership of the college, but for his generous bequest to the department he loved, which helped make this renovation possible.”

F.W. Kent Collection of Photographs University of Iowa Archives The University of Iowa Libraries

A dedication ceremony and reception are scheduled from 3:30 to 5 p.m., Thursday, April 14, on the second floor of Stuit Hall. Sponsored by CLAS, the Department of Psychology, the Office of the President, and the UI Foundation, the celebration will include tours, remarks, refreshments, and a ribbon cutting.

Attendees will have an opportunity to view historical photos of the 22,000-square-foot building. As an isolation ward, its south face was adorned with white wooden balconies, which provided light and fresh air to tuberculosis patients until 1928, when the hospital moved to the west campus. The facility was converted for use by the Department of Music until 1971, when the Voxman Music Building was constructed. After that, parts of the building were used for graduate painting studios.

“Preserving a piece of architecture enhances our university and the Iowa City community. You could put up a new building, but you’d never have that same character,” says Jeff Harney, who oversaw the restoration as a construction project manager in the UI Planning, Design, and Construction Department of Facilities Management. “The University made a good decision to renovate the building so it’s useful for today’s mission, and to do so in a manner that minimizes the environmental impact.”

The Stuit Hall project marks the first LEED renovation on campus. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, an internationally recognized green building certification program.) That means engineers and architects took into consideration thermal improvements, health and human productivity, and storm water management/erosion control.

Among the sustainability features are daylighting, a rain garden to capture storm water from the roof, occupancy sensors to control electric lights, new insulation and windows, low-VOC (volatile organic compound) and formaldehyde-free products, energy-efficient mechanicals, and recycling storage and collection centers on every floor. The contractor for the project was SG Construction of Burlington, Iowa.

Despite its many modern enhancements, Stuit Hall won recognition from the Friends of Historic Preservation, and the Iowa City and Johnson County Historic Preservation Commissions. The design team incorporated a certain timeless charm by selecting materials that match the originals—like a slate roof with finials, similar windows, hand-bent copper gutters, and restored brick and woodwork.

The construction team uncovered an intriguing historical surprise as they excavated the dirt basement to create a mechanical space. They found an abandoned limestone storm sewer that even the city didn’t know existed. With the help of a robotic camera, they explored the tunnel, which they believe connected to a cavelike network that ran from Brewery Square to Ralston Creek at one time.

Today, the inside of Stuit Hall is bright and airy with light finishes: white walls, frosted glass, and concrete floors. The ground floor houses the Seashore Psychology Clinic, where students, under the supervision of faculty and staff, provide psychological assessments and therapy to the community.

The first, second, and third floors house lab space for clinical psychology faculty, including Mike O’Hara, psychology professor and a Starch Faculty Fellow in CLAS. O’Hara codirects the Iowa Depression and Clinical Research Center, which has conducted research on women’s emotional experiences during pregnancy and the postpartum period since 1980. One of the center’s current projects is a study of how the 2008 flooding affected mothers in Iowa.

“One thing this renovation did for the psychology department was free up space in Spence Labs and Seashore Hall. That allows for the expansion of existing labs and provides lab space for new hires, which is very important,” O’Hara says. “We now have more of a dedicated clinic space, which is better for the patients and for the students seeing them. This is a significant upgrade to our facilities.”