Nye Hall pictured with some windows boarded up. President Marc Johnson discussed Residential Life and Housing into the Gateway Precinct on Dec. 1, 2019.
File Photo / Nevada Sagebrush
Nye Hall pictured with some windows boarded up. President Marc Johnson discussed Residential Life and Housing 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 the Argenta explosions, Wolf Pack Tower and housing at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Argenta Explosion

President Johnson said he was in Scotland on a hiking trip when he found out about the Argenta Explosions.

“My wife woke me up at one o’clock in the morning on Scotland time and said ‘we just got this message, I think you need to call your office’,” he said.

Marc Johnson said he then called the office and his incident management team were already assembled at his table. He said they told him briefly about the situation. He said they were meeting to do what they were trained to do, President Johnson said he hung up and to let him know what happened during the meeting. 

“My initial reaction was real surprise and shock and I wanted to know if anybody had been hurt,” President Johnson said. “Fortunately, we found that nobody was seriously injured and that the entire team at the university had kicked into gear and they were doing exactly what we trained to do for the last four years.”

The explosions left eight individuals with minor injuries. Six were treated on scene and two were sent to a local hospital.

President Johnson said there was a series of thought processes, one was immediate and the intermediate-term. 

“The immediate was, and I give all the credit to the team at the university, where housing and dining immediately took care of the 300 or so residents that were staying in Argenta Hall at the time… The explosion occurred around 1 o’clock in the afternoon and by nightfall, everyone of those residents had a bed and a meal,” he said.

President Johnson said the other part to the immediate reaction was police services and working with several first-respondent agencies to manage traffic and keep people away from the building. He said, at the time, they didn’t know whether the whole building was going to collapse. President Johnson said a couple days later structural engineers from Las Vegas determined whether the building was to be torn down or renovated and fix the outside so individuals could approach the building.

“For the intermediate-term, housing and dining and all of student services had to figure out very quickly that school was gonna start in about six weeks and 1,300 students with housing contracts and dining contracts …There was a great deal of negotiation, investigation like where in the world are we going to find these rooms.”

President Johnson said a number of people went out to find rooms and figure out dining facilities for all 3,500 students living in the residence hall.

“It was just an amazing sequence of events where many people were involved in identifying the problem within housing and dining and finding solutions that were all in place within all six weeks of the explosion to welcome our freshmen to their new university experience; and it worked wonderfully,” he said.

Wolf Pack Tower

President Johnson said there were other options besides the $21.675 million dollar deal with Eldorado Resorts by purchasing the Sky Tower to house around 1300 students, but they said the students were going to be spread around town.

“We were fortunate to work with Eldorado Resorts and they had a building that was almost empty and was recently renovated and it was a place we could house all 1,300 of these freshman in one building… and convert it into a dormitory or residence hall so we could have all the freshman experiences.”

President Johnson said by having the whole building, they could lock up the building and have security so people couldn’t come in and out of the building and create some security for the safety of students.

“It just became the best solution to be able to rent one building for a year and provide transportation services to bring the students to campus,” he said.

President Johnson said they made the deal with Eldorado Resorts because it was the only option they had where they could put all 1,300 freshman in the same building and have enough space for the Resident Assistants and make sure we weren’t sharing this building with other hotel guests.

“After working with Eldorado Resorts, sharing that contract with the insurance company and getting their approval, then we signed it and started preparing Wolf Pack Tower for the arrival for the new freshman.”

President Johnson believes Nye Hall will be opened in the fall, which will be 350 beds, but leave 450 beds vacant due to Argenta being out of commission.

“There’s many more beds than [450] in Wolf Pack Tower so we have already arrived at the conclusion that we will not be returning to Wolf Pack Tower fall of 2020 and we’re trying to finalize some contracts on alternative housing near campus,” he said.

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