Logistics take over Central Campus for ‘historical event’

Dan Mackenzie

When President Barack Obama comes to speak on Iowa State’s campus Tuesday, he will be entering ISU history by being one of only three sitting presidents who have done so. According to the university, former Presidents Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton are the other two.

To handle such a unique event, the university has had to do some logistical acrobatics to try to make sure that the president’s visit goes smoothly.

“Many of us locally have dealt with political events, including past presidential visit events, but each event is unique,” said Rob Bowers, associate director of Public Safety.

Bowers said events like presidential visits, while an interesting task, are essentially no different that other situations with large crowds on campus.

He also said just because a large event is happening doesn’t mean the officers lose sight of their day-to-day work.

“While we will have a large number of resources dedicated to the event … the protection of the student and university community is always our main concern,” said Bowers.

While he could not comment on specifics for security reasons — number of officers, where they will be working, etc. — it is clear that a lot of manpower will be dedicated to the event.

The cost for such precautions, though, is still unknown. 

In addition to individual security, costs for maintaining the grounds, cleaning streets and even utilities will need to be tallied up. 

And while the total costs will not be known until well after the speech itself, it’s not likely Iowa State will be out too much.

“Most of our costs will be on the campaign to pay for,” said Warren Madden, senior vice president for business and finance. “There will some dislocation costs that the university will incur in terms of security; normally you don’t get reimbursed for security. How much beyond what we would normally pay, we don’t have a handle on yet. The costs for the event itself, [the campaign] are paying for.”

Madden said the campaign is paying the same rate that any other guest would be expected to pay to speak on campus. Generally the rate is $1,000 for the outdoor space west of Curtiss Hall, and any rooms inside the buildings go for about $500 each. 

In addition to the general rental costs, they’ve also agreed to reimburse for extra costs like utilities and groundskeeping.

“One of the unknowns is the media costs,” Madden said. “The national media hasn’t decided if they’re going to broadcast from Ames. I suppose if the networks decide to set up and do evening news here, there will be a set of expenses associated with that. There might be a media tent, for example, and they also pay the reimbursement [for costs incurred].”

Madden said that when the Straw Poll was here in Ames last August, the media had a large tent set up and broadcast a handful of Sunday morning political shows in the shadow of the Campanile.

Among all of the concessions made to ensure a smooth visit, Madden said the university has been careful not to seem as though it is endorsing any particular candidate. 

“We’re trying to treat this [event] as we would any other event. And if the Republican candidate wanted to come to Ames, and wants the same kinds of things, they would get treated in the same fashion,” he said.

If one listens to political analysts and talking heads, it is very likely Mitt Romney will also show up in Iowa before November.

Above all, though, Madden said, this is still a historical event. “Independent of your political view, I see it as an event  for a sitting president to come to our campus,” Madden said. “I see it as a great opportunity, without regard to politics.”