UNR ramping up development – nearly $450 million across 10 years – to meet enrollment, market needs | nnbw.com

UNR ramping up development – nearly $450 million across 10 years – to meet enrollment, market needs

Claire Cudahy | ccudahy@swiftcom.com
UNR has ramped up development to meet its growing student body and the needs of the regional economy.
Claire Cudahy / NNBV

RENO, Nev. — Amid increasing student enrollment and a burgeoning regional economy, the University of Nevada, Reno has been working overtime to update and grow its campus.

Over the last 10 years, the university has seen its student population increase from roughly 17,000 to 21,500. At the same time, the region has welcomed a bevy of tech and advanced manufacturing companies in need of qualified graduates to join the workforce.

“This community is transforming in terms of its economic development, the industries coming in, the quality of our music operations…” UNR President Marc Johnson told the NNBV. “The university needs to grow and develop in terms of quality in order to be a very useful university and a cornerstone of the development of this community, both economically and socially.”

And grow it has.

Over the last decade, the university has constructed three new residence halls — including the $62.7 million Great Basin Hall completed this summer to house 400-plus students — and renovations are currently underway to re-open Manzanita Hall for additional housing.

In 2016, UNR opened the $45 million, 78,000-square-foot William N. Pennington Student Achievement Center on the old library site. In 2017, the university debuted the $47.5 million, 108,000-square-foot E.L. Wiegand Fitness Center, while $5.2 million in renovations went on at the Lombardi Recreation Building.

That same year, the Palmer Engineering Building underwent $13.2 million in interior renovations, and the Thompson Building saw $5.5 million in improvements.

“We did all of this for two reasons: One, we really needed more space and two, much of the space we had was outmoded and we really needed to improve the quality,” said Johnson.


Meanwhile, construction is currently wrapping up on a new $35.5 million University Arts Building connected to the Church Fine Arts building. And this October, UNR broke ground on the nearly $92 million, 100,000-square-foot William N. Pennington Engineering Building.

Funded by $41.5 million from the state of Nevada and the remainder from donors and the university itself, the four-story engineering building will house 150 graduate workstations, more than 40 laboratories, a large-scale computer lab, a 200-student classroom and faculty offices.

The project is in response to the fastest growing sector of the university — the College of Engineering.

With 2,900 engineering students and roughly 90 faculty members — double what it was in 2005 — the college has run out of space. The university expects enrollment to continue growing, and with that, a need for anywhere from 30-40 more faculty members in the next five years.

“In order to attract and maintain really strong faculty for whole careers, it’s really important we have good facilities,” Johnson said. “Half of the people who have left UNR in terms of faculty have been engineers and business professors, and that’s where we have a challenge with salary and a challenge with good facilities.”

In the near-term, the university is in the design phase of a $65 million, 108,000-square-foot business building that would extend the campus south between Ninth Street and Interstate 80.

The plan is to add a Life Sciences building and parking garage in this new portion of campus as well, though the design process is not underway yet.

Lastly, the Chemistry and Leifson Physics buildings are slated for $23.4 million in renovations starting next summer.

All told, the major infrastructure projects highlighted in this article, both completed and proposed, amount to roughly $436.5 million dedicated to capital improvements.


“When industries started moving in here after the recession, everybody was asking the question, ‘Are we going to be able to supply the engineers and business folks and journalism folks that can serve these industries?’” said Johnson. “We were very fortunate to be in a position where we could grow our student body rapidly because we have a good reputation for quality education and so we were very attractive to students from Nevada and Northern California.”

Though the ratio of in-state to out-of-state students has remained relatively stagnant — roughly 70 percent from Nevada and 30 percent from out of state — the university is succeeding in bringing in qualified workers to the state.

“About 71 percent of our students are from Nevada, but 75 percent of our graduates stay to live and work in Nevada,” said Johnson.

Nancy McCormick, senior vice president of retention, expansion and workforce development at the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), echoed the university’s importance to the success of the industries putting down roots in the state.

“The growth of the University of Nevada, and the creation and expansion of education programs that align with the diversification of the regional economy, are critical to ensure that we have the talent needed by employers who relocate to the area, want to grow their existing business here, or to those that want to start a business in the region,” said McCormick. “We are very fortunate to have an agile tier 1 University and Community Colleges in our area that are able to quickly respond and adapt to the changing business environment, and which support our economic development focus on technology, advanced manufacturing, aerospace, and other growth industries.”

But how is the university funding all this rapid growth? A mix of state funding, a percentage of student fees dedicated to capital improvement, and donors.

“We are also liquidating some properties in order to generate cash and realign the use of those valuable assets to higher priority renovations,” said Johnson. “We have very nice support from donors in the community. That’s why we have names on these buildings.”