In spring 1973, the University of Northern Iowa awaited the decision of the General Assembly on funding for projects that would eventually become known as the Industrial Technology Center , the Kamerick Art Building , and the Speech/Art Complex. The Regents did approve funding for the Industrial Technology Center in November 1973, but plans for the Kamerick Art Building, the Communications Arts Center, and the theater continued to form, re-form, and finally coalesce over several more years. University administrators tried to find the correct array of facilities to provide appropriate homes for programs in speech, speech pathology, art, and broadcasting services, which were housed in several locations including the Auditorium Building (now Lang Hall ) and four trailers. These facilities were sub-standard in size, condition, and level of specialization.
In the summer of 1973, UNI planning staff member Ken Wiseman said that plans for a $3.6 million Speech/Art Complex were well under way. He said that the size of the plan would depend on the Regents' disposition of $963,000 in replacement funds for Old Gilchrist Hall , which was destroyed by fire on May 12, 1972. At the same time Professor Edward Thorne, head of the Department of Speech, spoke on a possible location for the new complex. He favored the site now occupied by the Curris Business Building , but, above all, he hoped that the site would be near Russell Hall  because of the close and continuing collaboration between the speech and music faculty. Professor Thorne said that the priorities for the complex would be classroom space, a theater, and broadcasting and film facilities.
At their November 1973 meeting the Regents moved the Speech/Art Complex up on their capital projects list and earmarked a total of $4.7 million for the project, though about $1 million of that amount had not yet been funded by the General Assembly. That $1 million remained tentative when the Regents approved the preliminary budget in February 1974 and also approved selection of Brown, Healey, and Bock of Cedar Rapids, in association with Perkins and Will of Chicago, to provide architectural services.
The Northern Iowan applauded the progress toward funding and building the Speech/Art Complex. An editorial noted that some students and faculty had been unhappy that the university had seemed to be placing a higher priority on the UNI-Dome  project rather than much-needed speech, art, and theater facilities. The editorial pointed out that the Dome was built largely with private donations and student fees, and that the Speech/Art Complex depended on appropriated funds. They noted that there seemed to have been confusion about the separate sources of funding for the two project, but they hoped that things were moving in a direction that would make everyone happy.
In September 1974, the Regents approved a $4.5 million budget for Phase I of the Speech/Art Complex. Phase I would include a 78,062 gross square foot building that would come to be known as the Communication Arts Center. The Communication Arts Center would house offices of the Dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts; the Department of Speech; the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology; and Broadcast Services. Phase I would also include a theater facility of about 30,000 square feet. Phase II would be the Kamerick Art Building . The Regents also approved a site north and west of Russell Hall as the location of the new complex.
Architectural model of the Speech/Art Complex,
with Communication Arts Center in upper middle.
The original budget for Phase I was $4.564 million, but, when bids came in at $6.226 million, UNI officials revised the plans, and the Regents approved a budget of $5.154 million in September 1975. While administrators hoped to restore some of the cuts when it came time to build Phase II, the Communication Arts Center would come nowhere near its original plans to house both speech and art faculty and facilities. The local newspaper, the Cedar Falls Record, noted bitingly, "Inflation takes speech-art out of Speech/Art Complex".
The university held a groundbreaking ceremony for the new building on October 6, 1975. Janet Travis, Dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, presided; Regent Harry Slife, President Kamerick, and Professors Stanley Wood and Jon Hall, as well as Director of Broadcasting Services Douglas Vernier also participated.
Professor Stanley Wood at Speech/Art Complex
groundbreaking ceremony, October 6, 1975.
By March 1976 construction was well underway, with the foundation and some structural support work complete. While construction progressed, Director of Planning Leland Thomson worked with the interior design firm of Westberg Klaus of Minneapolis on the complex task of developing facilities appropriate to those who would occupy the building.
Speech/Art Complex under construction, June 1976.
Construction of the Communication Arts Center was completed in 1978, with a formal dedication on November 10-11, 1978. Dedication ceremonies included addresses by distinguished alumni Kenneth Anderson and James F. Curtis and a live broadcast on KUNI.
Professor Rick Lawn performs live on KUNI as part of
CAC dedication activities, November 1978.
The Art Gallery, temporarily housed in the new building, featured work by Willem de Kooning. Dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts Margarette Eby  explained the naming of the facility. She said that the term "Speech/Art Complex" referred to a group of three buildings planned to be built in a U-shape: a theater building, an art building, and a communication building. In spring 1978, the affected department heads and the Director of the Art Gallery met and decided on the name Communication Arts Center for the communication building. This name was approved by the Regents.
No major remodeling has taken place in this building. However, on May 23, 1994, the Communication Arts Center was struck by lightning which cracked the capstone on the roof and also caused a crack in the mortar joints. Damage was estimated at about $5000. KUNI equipment also suffered damage. The building underwent tuckpointing and some window replacement in 1998.
When Kamerick Art Building was initially constructed, it was seen as an addition to the Communication Arts Center. Later, the Kamerick Art Building was seen as a separate and distinct building. The Communication Arts Center and the Kamerick Art Building are connected by a glass hallway running north and south.
This hallway also has doors on its east and west sides; the west side leads to a walkway suspended over Hudson Road to the UNI-Dome.
Hudson Road overpass leading to Speech/Art Complex.
The CAC houses classrooms, the office of the Dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, radio stations KUNI and KHKE, the Department of Communicative Disorders, the Speech and Hearing Clinic, and the UNI Civic Arts Association.
Compiled by Library Assistant Susan Witthoft; edited by University Archivist Gerald L. Peterson, July 1996; substantially revised by Gerald L. Peterson, with research assistance by Student Assistant Julie Wiese and scanning by Library Assistant Gail Briddle, March-April 2003; last updated November 9, 2011 (GP).