The University of Iowa’s James Street Laboratory in Coralville, Iowa, was in the direct path of an EF2 tornado that tore through the area in the afternoon on March 31. The tornado had wind gusts up to 125 mph and was one of 30 confirmed tornados in eastern Iowa that day. The laboratory was unoccupied at the time, and no one was injured.

The building sustained significant damage. The tornado ripped off about a third of the roof, crumpled nine of ten large overhead doors, slammed a truck into the side of the building, and collapsed a 30-foot-tall concrete block wall on the west side of the building. With help from UI Emergency Management, the city of Coralville, and many other internal and external partners who provided support, the building was secured, and plans to rebuild are underway.

“We are devastated to see the damage to this engineering facility,” said Harriet Nembhard, dean of the College of Engineering. “Although it’s a significant loss, we were relieved to learn that no faculty or staff were injured. Engineers are resilient. We will rebuild, and we will continue our critically important research.”

The James Street Laboratory was home to two scale models of the Santa Clara River that IIHR—Hydroscience and Engineering (IIHR) researchers had built to study sustainable fish passage by using a vertical slot fish ladder. Each model was about 40 feet wide and 100 feet long, requiring 300 tons of sand and 100,000 gallons (about 378,541 L) of stored waterto study how sediment deposition can keep water and fish moving freely through the Freeman Dam. The laboratory has supported the design and construction of large-scale physical hydraulic models for clients across the country, including major hydroelectric utilities and municipalities in the states of Washington, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and California.

IIHR is planning to get back into the existing space to resume research activities. The Iowa Board of Regents has approved funding to repair the laboratory, including reconstructing the building and repairing the HVAC, plumbing, specialized research equipment, and other systems.

A damaged car sits on its side
Damage inside the James Street Lab