*Update Jan. 20, 2016: The College of Liberal Arts was referred to as the College of Arts twice (once in a direct quote). The department name has since been corrected.
By Marcus Lavergne
As students and faculty return to campus for the spring semester, construction is more prominent than ever, shining a spotlight on the University of Nevada, Reno’s expansion efforts. Current progress exposes mixed emotions and expectations regarding multiple projects.
The completion of UNR’s William N. Pennington Student Achievement Center is in sight, and the concrete foundation of the E. L. Wiegand Fitness Center has replaced the dirt-filled crater that once held more than 200 metered parking spots.
UNR’s desire to become larger will soon be a boon for the arts. One well-known building is set to get a new addition after suffering budget cuts five years ago. Church Fine Arts, which houses UNR’s fine arts degree programs, will be gifted a sister building as early as 2018. The 35,000-square-foot, three-story School of the Arts will connect to CFA via skywalk and include a new 300-seat recital hall as well as practice rooms.
According to John Walsh, director of capital improvement projects, funding for the $20 million extension has reached over $19 million and won’t impact student fees or the institution’s budget. Walsh said the project proposal was originally much larger, around 120,000 square feet. After identifying the amount of space that the CFA was lacking to meet its program needs, the college reduced the size substantially at the administration’s request.
“Most of this money is coming from outside donors,” Walsh said. “Most of those donors are going to be in the arts area.”
Walsh said that expanding the arts building has not made it into the administration’s list of top priorities until now, but it has always known that CFA is “severely” undersized. Walsh’s team is anticipating that final designs will be in the works in late spring or early summer.
“Church and the College of [Liberal] Arts has been trying to do an addition to the building for the past 15 years,” Walsh said. “This is going to be almost specifically for music and presentations.”
Walsh did mention that there would be space designated to other fine arts areas. Because of a substantial need for more room for students and faculty, the Sheppard Contemporary Gallery will most likely be moved to the new building, leaving vacant space in CFA. Walsh said that a lack of building space is one of the most important reasons behind much of the construction on campus.
Along with some of the larger buildings in development, the university is in the midst of completing six new tennis courts, which will replace the unusable courts that now lie buried under the newest green permit parking lot on campus. Each of these projects, in addition to six others, come with a hefty price tag — more than $200 million.
Students around campus feel the impact of the ongoing construction close to their dorm halls and classrooms. Parking space issues and a fear of more student fees clash against potential benefits from the new buildings, causing mixed feelings.
Students like sophomore business major Robbie Knippen are no exception. Although Knippen believes money for the buildings is well-spent, his biggest worry involves the timeliness of each building’s completion.
“I think it’s great the school’s trying to expand,” Knippen said. “But it’s not awesome how they continue to build stuff and how our campus will never fully be done. While we’re here it’ll never be fully completed and we’ll always have to [take] detours to get to our classes and whatnot. It’s just a minor complaint, but it’s kind of upsetting.”
Knippen’s friend and peer Joe Dwyer, an engineering sophomore, calls the construction an inconvenience worth suffering.
“I think [the construction’s] great,” Dwyer said. “It’s just the inconvenience of all the construction. It’s not the greatest thing to look at when you’re walking through campus. It’s nice to see it when it’s done, but for now it’s an inconvenience.”
Krista Scott is an upperclassman that won’t actually see the finished buildings, but believes they’ll be nice additions to the campus. Her biggest issues involve parking and the funding for the university’s expensive venture.
Unlike Scott, sophomore and freshman suite mates Kiana Fuller, a photography major, and Meghan Sweeney, a community health sciences major, have high expectations and anticipation for the buildings they will see during their undergraduate careers.
“I’m so excited about the addition to Church Fine Arts,” Fuller said. “To see it get like a face-lift almost is going to be really nice, and we were actually walking by the Student Achievement Center, and it adds to the beauty of campus. It’s going to be a great resource too.”
“We don’t have anything else on campus that looks like the new Student Achievement Center,” Sweeney said. “I thought that was really cool because we have so many unique buildings that it really adds to campus.”
Sweeney did question the construction of a new university fitness center, but reacted eagerly after finding out about Lombardi Recreation Center’s future designation to solely serve student athletes on campus.
As both students moved back into the newest resident hall on campus, Peavine, after winter break, they compared it to older halls like White Pine and Nye.
“We went to Nye Hall and it’s nothing compared to Peavine,” Fuller said. “I mean even though Peavine has its issues, their Wi-Fi doesn’t work and it’s really claustrophobic in there and kind of dark and dingy. I mean, it feels like a hotel in our rooms.”
Neither Fuller nor Sweeney had qualms about the detours caused by construction, even stating that the directions given by the workers were helpful. Each student reaction highlights the diverse mix of feelings arising from constant expansion around campus — expansion that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight.
Marcus Lavergne can be reached at mlavergne@ sagebrush.unr.edu and on Twitter @mlavergne21