Andrea Wilkinson/Nevada Sagebrush
Great Basin Hall as it stands in Aug. 2018. The new residence hall is helping to alleviate campus housing shortages.

While the City of Reno has made moves in the past several months to alleviate the housing crisis, the University of Nevada, Reno, is trying to do the same for students. Their solution? Great Basin Hall.

Great Basin Hall opened for on-campus residents for the 2018-2019 school year. The hall is Gold LEED-certified building and is capable of housing more than 400 students. The building is reserved for STEM students and is planning to provide a mentoring program for underclassmen.

“We really have done a lot of planning to ensure that we have enough room for at least the next five years, which is really something because we were really in a housing crunch for a while,” said Jerome Maese, director of Residential Life.

The campus housing crunch emerged in 2015 with the sudden closing of Lincoln, Manzanita and White Pine residence halls, even though the university has seen steady growth in recent years. The department’s inability to open Manzanita Hall three years ago caused problems for the department and students. Residential Life unexpectedly assigned 72 students to move into White Pine Hall, but then made those residents move out before semester’s end.

In 2015, Nevada Public Works required the University to close residence halls Lincoln and Manzanita, after designating the buildings as unreinforced masonry buildings. Without seismic retrofitting, these two 1896 buildings, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, could not withstand earthquakes. Although the University renovated Lincoln Hall into office spaces by Aug. 2016, it had not begun retrofitting Manzanita Hall.

Residential Life intended to move residents into Manzanita Hall for fall 2015 because, during spring, Residential Life had already closed White Pine Hall, constructed in 1960. Residential Life intended to demolish White Pine Hall, which could house about 120 residents, to build Great Basin Hall.

However, with Manzanita Hall declared unsafe for residents and with White Pine Hall’s demolition not scheduled until spring 2016, Residential Life instead moved Manzanita Hall’s intended residents into White Pine Hall.

Students suffered because of the transient community meant for Manzanita Hall. “The week I moved out of White Pine was one of the most hellish I had in college,” said Kait McDaniel, a freshman at the time.

“We never wanted to lose the building [Manzanita Hall],” said Jerry Marczynski, associate vice president, Student Life Services. However, in 2016, the department deemed renovation cost estimates too high. “It would have almost been three times what it would have cost to build it new,” Marczynski had said.

With regards to costs, Residential Life faced other problems. Great Basin Hall, originally set to open Aug. 2017, was postponed for redesign so it could be built at lower costs.

Residential Life intended to retrofit for Manzanita Hall for office space like Lincoln Hall. However, after re-examining the price of retrofitting a residence hall into offices, the University found renovations for housing more cost-effective.

As a temporary solution to the sudden closures, larger residence halls Argenta and Peavine, added extra beds to make double occupancy rooms triples.

After receiving student feedback, however, triples emerged successfully. According to Maese, “Students request the triple occupancy hall as their number one choice.”

Maese attributes this popularity to residents’ sense of community. From a department standpoint, residents’ success proves evident. “Their GPAs and retention rates continue to support it’s a good academic environment,” says Maese. “Their overall satisfaction is a pretty good indication we shouldn’t mess with it.”

With Great Basin Hall open, Residential Life also returned Juniper Hall, the smallest residence hall, from double occupancy to single occupancy rooms.

A commemorative construction beam students signed during Nov. 2017 now sits as a bench in the lab.

“We just want to make sure we’re getting ahead of the curve and providing opportunities for students,” says assistant director of Residential Life Peter Gatto. Manzanita Hall renovations expect to finish by Fall 2019.

Daniel Lang can be reached at daniellang@nevada.unr.edu and on Twitter @memoryLang.