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Iowa Flood Affects College Students

I wanted to share with you a feature article I’m in the process of writing.  How the Iowa Flood of 2008 has affected an overlooked demographic: college students.

Ashley Lungstrom, a current senior at Coe College, had just finished moving into her apartment on the 1300 block of K Street by June 1, 2008. Ten days later she evacuated her apartment and has not been back since.

Map of Lungstrom's Apartment

Map of Lungstrom’s Apartment

“I never thought it would affect me,” says Lungstrom. On the 11th her landlord had told her that the evacuation was bumped up to everyone living in the 500 year flood plain. In this flood plain, Lungstrom had a .02% chance that her apartment would be flooded.

Lungstrom packed a few boxes in her car and moved her things from the garage into her second story apartment. At 6pm, just as she was leaving, the city cut power to her block.

Lungstrom spent the duration of the summer with her friend who has three children and a dog with a litter of six. On the 12th power was cut to this place as well and Lungstrom and her friend’s family dropped the pets at a shelter and secured the last available room at a hotel.

After five days Lungstrom and the family recollected their pets and was able to return to the house. The flood waters stopped less than a half of a block away.

Over $10,000 of valuables were lost to Lungstrom. The floodwaters came up to the top of the windows of the first story of the building. Her dry second story apartment was inaccessible because the flood damaged a foundation wall.

Most valuable to Lungstrom was not her lost furnishings or expensive cookware but her extensive book collection, the jewelry worn at both of her sisters’ weddings and a rosary from Italy.

Lungstrom and other residents were instructed to submit a short list of valuables to the local fire department. Some of the things rescued from her apartment were a few of the books on her shelves; expensive text books, art books and her Bible were returned to her.

Lungstrom lived with her friend for the rest of the summer and worked flood relief at Coe College.  At the end of the workday co-workers turned off the lights, sat in the office and drank a beer while talking, trying to process the disaster that hit the city.

“No one wanted to take that home with us,” Lungstrom explained.

Lungstrom spent her days working flood relief for the college campus and would return to her friend’s house and have to manage flood relief for herself.

“I had Three Little Birds stuck in my head every day.” Lungstrom sang the Bob Marley song as a theme for her life post-flood.

Lungstrom was not the only person in her family that was affected by flooding. Her two sisters, in Fort Atkinson and Watertown, Wisconsin were under the stress of flooding as well.

21 years old at the time, Lungstrom’s parents wanted her to return home. At the peak of the flood many roads were closed and she didn’t want to try to return home. Also, her fierce independence kept her from returning.

Lungstrom now lives in Coralville with friends of the family and commutes the distance to school. When asked about her things and her apartment, she said she had no idea what would happen.

“I haven’t driven past my place since June.”

Students who live in Cedar Rapids are not the only ones who were affected by the floods. Coe College students who were away for the summer came back to devastated neighborhoods, lost cultural centers and a significant decrease in dining and nightlife.

The Piano Lounge in Cedar Rapids has been a nightlife staple for many college students. The underground bar received heavy damages during the flood of 2008.

Anya Gersib, a senior and Flunk Day Committee member at Coe College, rejoiced at the return of the “P-Lounge” in October. Gersib commented that the Piano Lounge is one of the only true nightlife spots that Cedar Rapids offers students.

“It’s a really smart move, because it can cater to a larger audience,” Gersib comments on the new changes to the Piano Lounge. The Piano Lounge remodel the bar, adding more bar space and created a game room; a separate room that houses a few couches, a separate bar, darts, pool tables, a TV and even a Wii.

Gersib and her friends highly recommend visiting the Piano Lounge during specials and on Tuesday nights.

Other favorite spots for the students, including downtown restaurants and theaters, have slowly reopened during the academic year. A few upperclassmen are still patiently waiting for more of the Czech Village to reopen and are eager to visit their old stomping grounds.

Current Freshmen and enrolling students aren’t left unaffected.

President Phifer

President Phifer

President Phifer addressed the school on Tuesday, March 24th about Coe College’s finances and the rising cost of tuition.

“We’ve got a real, old fashioned recession going on here,” says Phifer as he addresses the small group of students who chose to attend the meeting. The impact of the recession is compounded by flood damages that resulted in the loss of a city steam plant that powered the campus.

“I’ll be candid with you. We’re going to take a big hit in our endowments,” Phifer addressed the students.

Phifer explained the average loss of endowment is 40% in private colleges. He reassured the students that the school made wise investments and suffered a modest downturn at 8%. “And I expect some recovery from that,” he added.

This downturn is part of the reason Coe College students have seen a tuition increase. Students next year will also be billed an energy surcharge for the additional costs in maintaining steam power to the campus.

The surchage does not pay for the new steam plant; it pays for the additional energy costs from the rise in the basic cost of steam.

Coe College is uniting with St. Lukes and plans to create a small steam plant to heat both institutes. The total cost of the plant is projected at 4.6 million and the new steam plant would be built on St Lukes property, directly across from Murray Hall.

Coe would come up with 1/3 of the cost of the steam plant.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to get help from the government” says Phifer. He has traveled to Washington, D.C. in hopes of receiving a grant to pay for the plant. Phifer says we have “a compelling case” to Congress.

The new plant will use natural gas which is is twice the cost of coal. Phifer hopes to sign a 5 year contract of natural gas at the price of $6 a barrel and roll the costs into the college’s budget.

Coe received a total of $1.5 billion in damages because of the flood – including the cost of the new steam plant. Coe does have $1 million in flood insurance.

Despite the damages and loss, Lungstrom and Marley still seem to sing to the students, “Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be all right.”

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