historical home in Reno
Michala Matovia / Nevada Sagebrush
A historical abandoned Reno home which resides in the Gateway Precinct as of Monday, Jan. 21. President Marc Johnson discussed university expansion into the Gateway Precinct on Dec. 1, 2019.

In an interview on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, the Nevada Sagebrush asked President Johnson his thoughts on university expansion and the status of the Gateway Precinct at the University of Nevada, Reno.

University Expansion

President Johnson stated the university plans to expand because they are teaching 4,000 more students in the last four years and have reached a student to faculty ratio of 18:1. 

“That means our faculty had to grow at a rate faster than the student body and when we have 4,000 more students we have more financial aid advisors more student service workers and the like,” he said. “When your hiring hundreds of more people, you need spaces for hundreds of more people.” 

President Johnson said this is the reason they need to build more buildings. 

He said in 2014, he worked to create a strategic plan and a master plan for the campus and worked with the City of Reno and the Regional Transportation Commission. As opposed to the 2004 master plan, which President Johnson said the university grew to the east, President Johnson said the city reached out to him to see if they could connect midtown and downtown to the university to create a university corridor.

“We wanted to move the campus south a block to I-80 and the city was going to encourage private industry to develop north from downtown into the area south of I-80 and we would someday connect to a really vibrant university high-tech corridor between here and downtown,” President Johnson said.

Currently, President Johnson said studies showed students are afraid to walk from the campus to downtown because of the dark and he describes it as not very lively. He said by developing the university to the south, they could handle some of the space needs they have. President Johnson also said with the business developments, commercial facilities and housing developing in the north, there will be more people, more light and it will be safer.

Community Reactions

President Johnson said he believes most of the community is pleased with the university expansion.

“In the last few years, we have really developed a deeper academic enterprise, modified academic enterprises into minors and majors that are reflective of the new industries coming to town. We have really deepened the research portfolio of the campus, meaning we are finding basic science solutions to problems and applied science solutions to problems in medicine, earthquake engineering, neuroscience and the like. 

President Johnson said they are reaching into the community with the Innevation Center downtown near the Discovery Museum. He said it became the entrepreneurship hub for new start up businesses in the community. President Johnson also said they developed relationships with Tesla and Panasonic to create curriculum which help students into the workforce for those companies and created internship opportunities for students. 

“I think it’s important that the university grow and deepen and become a real national treasure because we actually produce the workforce for this growing community, supporting the economic development for the community and that’s what the community has told us they want,” President Johnson said. “They want to develop and become a growing economy and the university is one of the cornerstones of that growth.”

Historical Homes

President Johnson admitted a deal with Burning Man affiliate who was supposed to move the historical homes ‘fell through.’

“That was the choice of the Burning Man affiliate,” President Johnson said. “We have our speculations on why that occurred. We did ask the Historic Research Commission back in about 2016, I believe, to help us find appropriate places to move the houses. We were not getting help and finding alternatives.” 

President Johnson said there was continued political pressure to not move the homes at all. People told him they loved to have the homes on their property but President Johnson said he did not want to be involved in a controversy. He believes the controversy of leaving the homes where they were rather than finding alternative locations for the homes worked against  individuals trying to preserve them.

“Four of [the houses] are moving to new locations,” President Johnson said. “The rest will not survive.”

Update in the Area

President Johnson said the university obtained architects who are currently working on the design of three buildings: a parking garage, a College of Business building and a life science laboratory building. He also said there is an architect working on the design for the entire Gateway Precinct. 

Construction is expected to take place in the summer of 2021, starting with the new business building and parking garage. The buildings are expected to be no taller than six stories, according to the updated Master Plan.  

“We have had the alley between Center Street and Lake Street ceded to us by the city and we asked them for part of Lake Street so we can expand our parking garage for better mobility inside,” President Johnson said. “Many of the buildings in the gateway area have been raised so that they are starting to see the building sites for future buildings.”

During the The Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents meet on Thursday, Dec. 5, and Friday, Dec. 6, NSHE did not pass the proposal, created by the College of Business’ Business Student Council, for the new business building. The proposal included more provisional resources for business students such as a business library, study rooms and a café. In order to fund the construction of the building and hire more faculty, a differential fee of $30 credit hour was written into the proposal.

The U, Textbook Brokers

President Johnson said RTC planned for many years to take out the businesses and take over the properties in order to build out their transit location. He said he knows they are currently working on private treaty contracts to purchase all of the properties.

“That is an RTC thing and so I had nothing to do with the bookstore on the corner of 9th and Virginia,” Johnson said.

Taylor Johnson can be reached at tkjohnson@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @taylorkendyll.