UNR master plan: Expand campus, services
RENO, Nev. — When Marc Johnson, University of Nevada, Reno president, delivers his State of the University address this Wednesday, he will likely highlight ways in which the school and the city can work together to transform Reno into a thriving, prosperous college town.
Plans to do that are outlined in a document the school has been working on all year — its 10-year Master Plan, which it is set to deliver along with a new Strategic Plan to the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents for adoption at year end.
UNR is working with the City of Reno and the Regional Transportation Commission on the master plan, which covers the physical aspects of the school — the buildings and facilities required to support it — and sets goals for land use.
“There will be some elements with a time frame, like we need a dorm built by this time. Some of the recommendations will be more open ended. Others will be more intentionally vague, such as athletic facilities we’d like to have but may not have funding for but nevertheless it is a desired outcome,” says Kevin Carman, UNR’s executive vice president and provost who is in charge of the master plan process. “It is partially an aspirational document, which is good and appropriate.”
One key takeaway, says Carman, is the school needs more dorms. UNR is growing fast. Last week it announced fall semester enrollment is just shy of 20,000 students, 6.2 percent more than last year.
“About 66 percent of our freshmen live in the dorms and we should be shooting for 80 percent. Overall, 17 percent of students live in dorms and the national average is more like 25 percent,” says Carman.
“It’s clear we’re going to need to think about an expanded campus and we may need to work with the private sector.”
That’s because UNR has little space for expansion and everyone would like to see the school grow south, into downtown Reno to change the face of that area.
“The challenges here are the university owns very little land in that gateway area. They own some east of Evans Avenue,” says Steve Jacobs, vice president of U3 Advisors, a national consultant the school has hired to work on the plan.
That’s where the City of Reno comes in with its capacity to influence private investment through zoning.
“The conventional way is they go buy and we’ve been talking to them about other models used in university communities,” says Bill Thomas, assistant city manager of the City of Reno. “That’s where the university says we have a need for new facility but it doesn’t have to be university owned. Then the private sector steps forward and says we will partner with you and you promise a long term lease in return.”
For its part, the RTC is working on adding bike paths, roundabouts to slow traffic and better bus service to better connect the campus with downtown.
The RTC plans to extend its rapid transit service, which runs buses every 10 minutes now between Meadowood Mall and the 4th Street Station, to the campus and add at least two or three university stops and several traffic circles to make Virginia Street safer for walkers and bike riders.
“The next step in October is to start the preliminary environmental and engineering studies and then final design,” says Amy Cummings, RTC’s director of planning. “We’re looking at about a three-year window between planning and implementation.”
Further out, up to four years, are plans to widen sidewalks and add lighting so pedestrians can safely walk from downtown to campus.
“We need the university filling the gap as gaming continues to shrink,” says Reno’s Thomas. “It spends $5 million a year and has 4,200 employees. Plus, it’s growing to 22,000 students by 2022. Put all that together and UNR is a major economic influence in the community.”