By Tyler Hersko
We outfitted ourselves in the safety vests and hard hats that would be required for the coming trek. Our armory? A soon-to-be demolished day care center. Our destination? The so-called “heart of the University’s Residential District,” otherwise known as Peavine Hall.
The building, which is located across the street from Nye Hall, isn’t much to look at currently. Mounds of sawdust and slabs of concrete are the incomplete structure’s standout features, but when the fall semester begins, Peavine Hall will stand as the University of Nevada, Reno’s most modernized and thematically-focused residence hall to date.
The building is structurally similar to the Nevada LLC residence hall, which opened in 2013. Each of the hall’s five floors will include common lounge areas and suite-style, two and four-person living spaces with private bathrooms and showers. Study lounges, laundry and gaming rooms, the latter of which will have a pool table, a piano and several televisions, and a grassy courtyard round out the upcoming residence hall.
The wellness-themed community plans to forego traditional residence hall events in favor of mountain excursions and volleyball matches at the Lombardi Recreation Center and is part of the university’s “community development model,” which is intended to connect students to campus organizations.
“We only have [students] for nine months,” said Jerome Maese, director for residential life. “By taking them to different programs and activities that are offered on campus … We hopefully set them up for success for their remaining three years at the university. Our model is all about getting them out of the residence halls.”
Supply and demand
The concept of getting students out of the residence halls is one that the university has recently struggled with. UNR has enjoyed continuous growth in the last several years, but the residence halls have been unable to keep up with the influx of students. Although Peavine Hall will host approximately 400 students, its opening will coincide with the closing of three residence halls.
The White Pine, Lincoln and Manzanita residence halls will be taken offline following the spring 2015 semester. White Pine will be renovated and reopened as a science, technology, engineering and mathematics hall in fall 2017, while the latter two halls will be permanently closed, primarily due to unsatisfactory earthquake protection standards. Lincoln and Manzanita will be repurposed as faculty office spaces over the next several years.
As a result, Peavine Hall’s opening will expand the university’s housing capacity by a net total of approximately 90 beds, according to Gerald Marczynski, the associate vice president for Student Life Services. Marczynski stated that Peavine Hall wouldn’t be able to sufficiently answer the growing demand for campus housing.
“We’re turning around quickly to get the White Pine replacement up,” Marczynski said. “We’re hoping to be somewhere in the 300 to 400 [bed] range in that building.”
Like Peavine Hall, the renovated White Pine Hall will emphasize the importance of student engagement, albeit with a more specialized academic focus. The hall will be open to STEM majors and is designed to serve as a support group for its residents.
“We need to create environments that set students up for academic success,” Maese said. “[The hall] will also have a certain amount of returning students to help mentor.”
The upperclassman element
Maese and Marczynski said that due to finite availability in the residence halls, the vast majority of residence hall space would be devoted to first year students. According to Maese, while a limited number of returning students who met the appropriate academic criteria would be allowed to return to the residence halls, as much as 98 or 99 percent of Peavine Halls’ capacity would be freshman-oriented.
According to Marczynski, though Canada Hall will remain a residence hall designed for upperclassmen, other residencies, such as Sierra Hall, will see a stronger push for more freshmen. While Marczynski said that the reopening of White Pine may alleviate the issue of housing for returning students, Maese said that the upperclassman housing in White Pine would be largely restricted to the limited mentoring roles for STEM majors.
Senior Addison Bogardus, the outgoing Residence Hall Association president, expressed frustration about the state of upperclassman housing at UNR. According to Bogardus, the rapid increase of freshman enrollees caused several complications for the residence halls.
“In just three years you went from shutting down halls to shutting down the waiting list because of too many people,” Bogardus said. “A severe trend has happened. Because of that, we’re having an overcrowding issue.”
Bogardus said that the disappearance of upperclassman housing could have a severely negative impact on the residence halls as a whole.
“Our organization [RHA] really relies on [upperclassman] students,” Bogardus said. “We’re not gonna get a diverse community full of experienced college kids if we don’t have upperclassmen housing … We’re missing an events director, marketing director and recognition coordinator.”
Despite arguing that the administration had largely overlooked RHA’s concerns in the last several months, Bogardus believed that the administration was ultimately working for the best interests of the students.
The master plan
Looking past White Pine’s reconstruction, Marczynski expressed optimism about the university’s future expansion projects, and noted that plans may focus on upperclassman housing.
“I think it’s pretty exciting,” Marczynski said. “We’re continuing to climb up. Our goal is to get to 3,000 beds on campus when we’re done with our building. At that point, I think we’re gonna start looking at public-private partnerships to build some upperclassman housing.”
As stated in the university’s master plan, the City of Reno is encouraging UNR to build south towards I-80 and the downtown district. The plan’s stated goal is to provide housing for 80 percent of freshman students and ultimately house a quarter of the university’s undergraduate population. Upperclassman housing would be available in apartment-style living areas, such as those currently available for graduate students at Ponderosa Village.
According to Bill Jacques, director of housing facilities, there are basic plans for a new residence hall to be opened in 2019. Although specifics regarding post-White Pine are vague, Jacques noted that the university is working towards adding new residencies every other year. He said that despite the ideas suggested in the master plan, one of the primary obstacles halting further expansion was the lack of available real estate. Consequently no area has been designated for future residence halls.
“We’re running into land issues,” Jacques said. “[The master plan] talks about expanding the campus towards downtown. That’s as far as we’ve gotten.”
Tyler Hersko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TylerHersko.