The Harkin Institute dedicates the Tom and Ruth Harkin Center

The Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement held a ceremony today, Aug. 20, to mark the opening of its $8.9 million building on the Drake University campus. Though construction wrapped in 2020, the building’s dedication had been postponed due to the pandemic.

Named after Ruth and retired Senator Tom Harkin, the lead sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and lifelong disability rights advocate, the building was designed to be exceptionally accessible.

“The Institute’s home on Drake’s campus sets a new standard for universal design,” said Senator Harkin. “The building provides a model for architects and designers to create spaces that are truly inclusive. Today, compliance with the ADA’s building requirements are a starting point in achieving inclusion, not the end. It is imperative that we go beyond basic compliance to create spaces accessible to all people.”

During the construction process, the Institute relied heavily on feedback from a committee comprised of members of the disability community. The building features ramps that are wider than required and serve as the primary route between spaces rather than an alternative option; contrasting colors on walls, signage, and furniture to aid individuals with spatial awareness challenges; conference rooms that allow for those in wheelchairs or others who have mobility concerns to maneuver better; and tables and chairs in circular configurations so attendees can better see each other’s faces to enhance communication. 

What goes on inside the building is equally as important as its structure. Created in 2013, the Institute conducts public policy research and analysis dedicated to the issues that defined Senator Harkin’s legislative career: persons with disabilities, wellness and nutrition, retirement security, and labor and employment. The Institute has grown substantially over the past nine years in staff and programming. 

“The new building will strengthen The Harkin Institute’s position as a national leader in research, public policy, and social change, as well as grow programming for Drake students and members of the community,” said Drake University President Marty Martin. “The Institute supports the important role Drake plays in transforming lives and strengthening communities. We are honored to have the Institute and the Harkin Center as part of our campus.”

The Harkin Institute’s National Advisory Council played an integral role in the planning of and fundraising for the $8.9 million building, which was funded through private donations. Current members include Marsha Ternus, Charlie Cook, Angela Franklin, Ruth Harkin, Jim Hubbell III, Rachel McLean, Sally Pederson, Liz Schuler, and Steve Sukup. Additionally, the Institute is grateful for the contributions of two of its former members on the project: Steve Roberts (deceased) and Michael Gartner. As part of the building’s planning, the National Advisory Council created a building committee comprised of Ruth Harkin, Ternus, Hubbell, Gartner, McLean, and R.W. Nelson.