Everything you need to know about UNR’s campus construction


Nearly 80 thousand square feet are fenced off for the construction of the William N. Pennington Student Achievement Center at the University of Nevada, Reno. / Photo by Sage Leehey

From the preparation to demolish the old Getchell Library for the William N. Pennington Student Achievement Center to the work on the Virginia Street entrance to Church Fine Arts, as well as the demolished lot where the old graduate and family housing apartments were and the new ones will be, there are quite a few construction projects happening on the University of Nevada, Reno campus right now.

In addition to the projects seen all around campus, the university has several other projects planned to begin in the relatively near future, including the Cooper Court Residence Hall, the E.L. Wiegand Student Fitness Center and the Fieldhouse: Indoor Fitness Facility, and renovations to the Redfield Proscenium Theatre and Gallery inside Church Fine Arts.

These projects are all aimed at one thing: bringing more students to UNR.

William N. Pennington Student Achievement Center

A rendering of Pennington Student Achievement Center. / Courtesy photo
A rendering of Pennington Student Achievement Center, which is set to open in early 2016. / H + K Architects

In place of the Getchell Library will be the 77-thousand square foot William N. Pennington Student Achievement Center (PSAC), which will house many of the campus’s student services, including the Math Center, Writing Center, Tutoring Center, Counseling Services, Independent Learning and the Disabilities Resource Center. Scheduled to open in early 2016, its construction is currently focused on demolition preparation and then asbestos abatement inside the building.

“We are in the process of doing the utility portion, which is relocating the high temp hot water, chilled water and 25 kV electrical lines around the Getchell site in preparation for the demolition of Getchell over winter break,” said senior project manager Scott Brown. “At the same time, we are designing the new student achievement center, which tentatively is scheduled to break ground this coming July to start the student achievement center. And that’ll be an 18-month construction project to bring the student achievement center online.”

As construction has progressed at the Getchell Library, access between upper and lower campus has been somewhat difficult because around the paths around the old Getchell building are key foot traffic areas.

Overall, Brown believes that they have “done a pretty good job at notifying campus and routing students” around their work, and that PSAC will create a better passage between upper and lower campus than there was before construction started.

“The Student Achievement Center will be a link between the north and the south campus by bringing all of these different academic and student centers under one roof,” Brown said. “I think it’s a very positive step for us. The corridor through Getchell has always been what we call a pinch point — it’s tight through there. The Student Achievement Center is going to really open up that corridor and make it a vital link between the two.”

Brown added that he thinks the PSAC will bring more activity and a “more positive feel” to the south end of campus and that it’s proximity to the dorms will be beneficial to campus as well.

The funding for this project is coming from several different venues: A $12 million portion of the funding came from philanthropic giving, including the $6 million dollar naming gift from the William N. Pennington Foundation; there is about $7 million coming from the university’s pocket, gained by selling university assets.

The final chunk of funding comes from the capital improvements fee that students of the university pay with their tuition. The money from this fee was only recently freed up.

“As a result of closing the Fire Science Academy— an installation in Carlin, Nevada—we were paying off large debts on the construction of that place and students were using their capital improvements fee to pay off the debts on that training facility,” UNR president Marc Johnson said. “So we closed that in December 2011 and sold the land to the National Guard and asked the students if they had this money available, what would they want to do with it? They identified both the Student Achievement Center and the improvement of physical fitness facilities.”

New fitness facilities

A rendering of the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center / Courtesy photo
A rendering of the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center, which is scheduled to open in 2016. / Courtesy photo

The proposed new fitness facilities—E.L. Wiegand Student Fitness Center (WSFC) and the Fieldhouse: Indoor Fitness Facility—are slated to open in fall of 2016, although that date is not firm. These facilities are still only proposals because in order for construction to start, some of the funding still has to be secured by a Board of Regents approval of new student fees that will be added spring 2014.

If approved, the fee will be $30 per semester, and an additional $30 per semester when the facilities open in 2016—the $60 semester fee starting in 2016 will give students automatic membership into all three facilities. There will also be an advisory vote for the entire student body on Oct. 24-25. Although the student vote does not necessarily dictate the Board of Regents’ decision, it’s not likely they’d approve these fees without student support.

The remainder of the fitness centers’ funding is from philanthropic giving of about $16 million, according to Johnson, and then from the capital improvements fee, like the PSAC.

These two new facilities will not take the physical place of Lombardi Recreation Center, but much of the facilities inside of Lombardi will be moved into the WSFC. The WSFC will be constructed north of the Brian Whalen parking complex and south of Lawlor Events Center in the metered parking lot in front of the Joe Crowley Student Union. The Fieldhouse will be constructed where the current, unplayable tennis courts are located between Mackay Stadium and Wolf Pack Park and the John Sala Intermural Fields. (New tennis courts will be relocated to the old Manogue property on the east side of campus.)

Brown explained why they chose not to simply expand Lombardi, and to instead create new facilities.

“We had originally looked at a remodel of Lombardi, and because of where it’s located, [there aren’t] a lot of options to expand or renovate it to make it a viable option,” Brown said. “The center itself has grown, and continues to grow, and it’s a vital piece for the students to be able to have access to. By building a new facility, [it brings] a new exciting piece to the campus for students to have access to.”

The plan is to have Lombardi provide overflow gym space, a swimming pool, diving venue, handball/racquetball courts, a practice facility for the men’s and women’s intercollegiate basketball teams, and a facility for women’s intercollegiate volleyball. (UNR’s Virginia Street Gym will then be able to be used for other, undecided activities in the future).

The WSFC will be four stories and 110,500 square feet, and will contain the majority of fitness and wellness facilities on campus. It will contain sports equipment check-out; training and instructional space; administrative offices; three full-court basketball gymnasiums (also can be used for volleyball, tennis and other indoor court sports); fitness areas for weightlifting, CrossFit, gym and group classes, treadmills, ellipticals, Stairmasters, bikes and rowing machines; a 200-meter (1/8th of a mile) three-lane running track and multi-use rooms for other classes, like Pilates, yoga, TRX, aerobics, indoor cycling, rowing, fusion fitness and Zumba.

The Fieldhouse will have a full-length football field with a synthetic grass surface, a 307-meter six-lane running track with spectator seating on one of the straightaways, sprint lanes for triple-, high and long jump competitions, a half-size soccer field, locker rooms and field storage.

The main use of the Fieldhouse will be for NCAA varsity teams during the day, but after 6 p.m. the Fieldhouse will open for student recreation, intramurals and club sports.

Brown believes this facility will help the campus with student retention and recruitment and is excited for the possibilities it opens up.

“It’s just going to be a new, exciting piece for the students to have access to and opens up potential for other opportunities with Lombardi down the road,” Brown said. “I think it’s a vital piece to help keep students on campus and have something to do when they’re here.”

New residence hall

A rendering of UNR's newly designed Residence Hall, plans to address the needs of an expanding student population, will be located in the heart of the University's Residential Hall "District"
A rendering of UNR’s newly designed Residence Hall, which will be located in the heart of the University’s Residential Hall “District” / Collaborative Design Studio

The third large construction project planned on campus is a new 117-thousand square foot residence hall that is scheduled to begin construction in the spring and open to residents in fall 2015, according to Johnson.

It will be suite-style living and will house about 400 undergraduate students. Based on the schematic design drawings, it looks like most of the units will hold four students and one bathroom, but some will hold two students with one bathroom.

The hall will be located in what the university is calling the “Residence Hall District.” It will be on Sierra Street, south of Nye and Argenta halls, immediately south of the Artemesia Building and north/northwest of Sierra Hall behind the Continuing Education building. According to Johnson, the funding for this project is a little different than both the PSAC and the WSFC and Fieldhouse.

“That is strictly a business deal where, like the rest of our residence halls, we will take out a long-term bond, a debt instrument, and it will be paid off when the students pay their regular rents in the building,” Johnson said. “So 100 percent of the funding for the residence hall will come from future student rental payments.”

The university decided to build another new residence hall shortly after opening up their most recent one, the Nevada Living Learning Community, about a year ago.

“We immediately saw that [the Nevada Living Learning Community] was filled, and we had student applications coming in requesting housing,” Johnson said. “It didn’t take us long to know that we needed another residence hall immediately.”

In fact, the university has grown—and is planning to grow—by so much and so quickly that two more residence halls are planned to open in 2015, but a timeline has not been set.

“The next one, likely, will lie between [this] new one and Argenta, also on Sierra,” Johnson said. “And then the next one would be over by the library, where White Pine is now. We would look to take down White Pine and expand the space there to increase the number of beds available in another new residence hall there.”

The plan is to have these next three residence halls hold about a thousand more students.

Graduate Family Student Apartment complex

The new three-story "Graduate Family Student Apartment" complex will replace the current facility, University Village, at 1775 Evans St., just east of the Lombardi Recreation Building. / Courtesy photo
The new three-story “Graduate Family Student Apartment” complex will replace the current facility, University Village, at 1775 Evans St., just east of the Lombardi Recreation Building. / Courtesy photo

One of the current fences on campus surrounds where the old graduate and family student housing used to stand. The old facility—now demolished—was built in 1960 and had 40 one-bedroom units. However, this did not fit the needs of the growing student population. This lot is located east of Lombardi on Evans Street.

The new Graduate Family Student Apartment complex will be three stories and will hold 120 units and 212 beds in a combination of apartments. Some will have one bedroom and one bathroom, others will have two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It is planned to open in fall 2014.

Johnson said UNR’s campus has needed this project for a while, but the opportunity didn’t come about until recently.

“The family and graduate housing came on because the recession is sort of over, and this has been planned for a while that we need to move ahead with this project and we found a private partner,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we could have done this during the deepest part of the recession, but as soon as the economy improved, we found the Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions company, who worked with us to start this construction project.”

This project’s funding is very different from the rest of the construction projects going on and planned on campus right now, as it’s a public/private venture.

“We have leased the land to Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions, and they are going to construct the building, collect rents, own the building, but we have a contract with them so our housing department can manage the building, along with the rest of their residential properties,” Johnson said. “The private company is going to come up with all the financing. We have no responsibility for financing that project. It’s about a $20 million project.”

Maureen Omrod, the corporate communications director at Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions, said that the details of the project are still being worked out, but that “the proposed project is very similar other projects in [their] portfolio.” The company recently completed a student housing project at Lake Forest College in Illinois and is currently working on projects at University of Iowa and Tarleton State University in Texas, according to Omrod.

“Our Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions business is dedicated to developing campus infrastructure, including student housing, academic buildings, arenas and other facilities,” Omrod added.

According to Nevada Today, the one-bedroom units will most likely lease for $825 per month, while the two-bedroom units will probably lease for $1,126 per month. The article also states that each unit will have modern appliances, efficient heating and cooling systems and washers and dryers, which were not present in the old complex.

Church Fine Arts’ “Act One”

Courtesy photo
An architectural rendering shows the new entrance of the Church Fine Arts building, part of the first phase of renovations. / Van Woert Bigotti Architects

The Church Fine Arts building has also erected a fence on campus while renovations are being made to the Redfield Proscenium Theatre and Gallery inside this building as well as to the front entrance on Virginia Street.

This project is being called “Act One,” which seems to mean that there will be an “Act Two”, or even more, in the future.

The entrance is getting a more “artsy” look, and the theater and gallery will be “modernized,” according to Johnson. This project will cost a total of about $4 million and should be completed by the end of 2013.

“We had some funds available to do some major renovations of some spaces on campus, and the theater was very old fashioned and unsafe in terms of the rigging, the curtains, the lighting and things of that nature,” Johnson said. “So we started by replacing those things and went onto design to completely change the nature of seating in the theater, build in an orchestra pit and improve and modernize all the lighting and et cetera.”

Some of the funding for this project came from a one-time student fee about a year ago, but most of it came from philanthropic giving, with the largest gift of $2 million coming from the Nell J. Redfield Foundation, according to Johnson.

Plans to grow

Much of the reasoning behind these construction projects on campus is because of the growth the university has seen recently and the university’s plan to grow significantly in the coming years.

Johnson explained that the growth of the student body is both the cause and the effect of the expansions and construction occurring or planned on campus. The campus needs more residence halls, more graduate and non-traditional student housing, more fitness facilities and renovations because of the number of students walking through the doors, but the addition of these buildings and these renovations also attract more students to the university.

The university very much wants to grow to a larger size and plans to hit 22 thousand students by 2021, according to Johnson’s State of the University address. The university’s current enrollment is at 18,776 students. The idea is: More enrollment will bring forth more revenue and prestige.

“The growth of the student body gives us an opportunity to teach more students and graduate more people with degrees,” Johnson said. “Our number one mission is to teach people toward degrees, and if we can serve more students, more well-prepared students, then we will be achieving that objective.”

Johnson also explained that more students would make the university more efficient. He used the example that there will always only be one president no matter the number of students and said that growing “is a way to gain efficiency by spreading the cost of basic infrastructural services over more students.”

He also stated that they are trying to encourage more students from out of state to come to the University of Nevada, Reno, namely northern California students.

“We recruit very heavily throughout Nevada, but we also recruit especially in Northern California,” Johnson said. “We have learned that students, particularly WUE [Western Undergraduate Exchange] students, are well-qualified and well-prepared students. When they come over here, many of them stay. It’s a wonderful climate, there’s lots to do here. If they can find a job here, they will stay here. So it’s a way to expand the professional workforce in this area.”

In addition to out-of-state students, educating more Nevada students toward earning degrees has its benefits for the local economy as well.

“This region is trying desperately to grow their businesses and bring in more high tech industry and advanced manufacturing industry,” Johnson said. “And they need professionally educated employees, so we serve the individual student for their growth, we gain efficiency, and we supply a professional workforce for economic development.”

The response to the construction and growth on campus has been positive, according to Johnson, with some saying things to him like, “All this construction on campus represents a dynamism and vibrancy that we haven’t seen on the campus in some time” and “It’s great to see the addition of student-centered buildings to enhance the overall educational experience of our students.” He also stated that he has heard “virtually no negatives about all this construction.”

“People are pleased that we are creating jobs by doing all this construction here,” Johnson said. “The economy is still a little bit weak, and if we can pull these projects together, we’ll be creating lots of jobs.”