Three years ago, the University of Nevada, Reno launched an expansion plan that called for increasing the size of the campus from 290 to 860 acres.
It was an expansion that once would have drawn little objection. From its relocation to Reno from Elko in 1885, land acquisition had not usually been a problem. But in 2005, the campus was essentially landlocked. The only ways to expand were by displacing people, and the new plan to more than double the size of campus raised a ruckus in adjoining neighborhoods.
The prospects weren’t great. To the west were affluent neighborhoods whose residents could afford court fights. To the east were neighborhoods filled with low income working people whose eviction could generate the kind of news coverage public institutions dependent on good will hate. And to the south was a strip of four blocks the university wanted to make some kind of “gateway” to the campus that critics saw as unnecessary. Nevertheless, the local planning commission went along with only one dissenting vote.
But things have changed. Under President Milton Glick, the campus is drawing back from its previous empire building. It may be a while before UNR completely draws back from expansion as a way of life—changing a century-plus policy is a little like turning an oil tanker—but UNR has dropped plans for purchases along Valley Road and has even sold one property on Evans Avenue that it already owned. Taller buildings are the future.
“Yes, if you look at our recent growth, we are building up,” Glick said. “For example, the Davidson building.”
The Davidson Math and Science Center, now under construction and slated to open in 2010, is a five-story building in the southeast corner of the campus that bumps right up against a residential neighborhood. It is not the only example of building up instead of out. The new student union and library buildings are both tall monoliths.
“We are only acquiring properties in what we consider to be priority areas,” Glick said. “We are not acquiring properties to the east or west. … We are not in an expansion mood. That is a change from where the university was before. In fact, last Board meeting, we sold a piece of property on the east side of Evans, saying that we think our priority is between Evans and Sierra and we are not acquiring property east of Evans.”
Of course, that “and Sierra” does mean acquisitions, since much of the property between the campus and Sierra is still privately owned and residential. Glick promises that even those acquisitions will be “in a limited area.” If so, the 2003 acquisition of the former Manogue High School grounds will be the last major expansion of the UNR campus.
Glick offered a caveat.
“Now, I won’t promise you we’ll never acquire a property, but the plan was to acquire all the property over to Valley Road. That’s not where we’re going. So we are not in a property acquisition mode.”
He also pointed out that the new policy represents his administration, and he can’t speak for his successors.
“Now, can I tell you that five years from now some president won’t come in and—? I can’t promise that. But we’re trying to consolidate our [holdings].”
Last month at a meeting of the facilities committee of the Nevada Board of Regents, Glick asked for approval to sell a piece of residential property at Evans and Ninth streets for $270,000. It had been purchased in 2005 for $260,000 so it would be essentially a financial wash, but Regent Cedric Crear still objected. After Glick personally assured the committee that no money would be lost on the sale, it was approved with Crear voting no.
The new policy comes at a propitious time. Large public institutions are being watched closely in connection with new environmental concerns and the belief that colleges, hospitals and similar campuses have the same responsibility as communities and malls to avoid sprawl.
“Everybody should show restraint and everybody should contribute to land use patterns that are most sustainable,” said Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.
“More dense places where people can live and work—anything that gets people out of their cars—absolutely,” he said. “And it doesn’t matter whether you’re the city of Reno or [a] private landowner or the university. Everybody should be looking at those principles.”
Frankie Sue Del Papa of Reno has a foot in two camps. She is a resident of a neighborhood just east of the university and has spoken up for residents in the past. She is also a former member of the Board of Regents and spends a good deal of her time supporting campus projects and policies. The new policy took her by surprise.
“Well, if I were part of the internal university family as opposed to the external university family I would certainly keep every option open,” Del Papa said. “I think that going up is a priority for all of us as we look to the future. I mean, we can’t continually go out. That said, the university has a huge parking issue. They’ve had a parking issue since you and I were students there, which is now a long time ago. But in going up, they’re still going to have to address the parking problem.”
The campus has only one major parking structure, which is not centrally located, with parking lots and a miscellany of spaces scattered around campus.
Del Papa thinks the neighborhoods on the east side of campus have a bond with the campus that is a source of community good will for UNR.
“As you know, I live near there and of course, in my neighborhood there are a lot of university people who work [on campus], and it’s already a university neighborhood because a lot of people work there or rent to students, etcetera. And we consider ourselves part of the university community.”
But the same public policy that aids one citizen can distress another, and some homeowners have been waiting for years for the university to come calling.
One Valley Road homeowner had expected that after the university purchased the old Manogue High School grounds, it would then acquire the neighborhood on the west side of Valley Road along with Sierra Vista Elementary School, which sits between Manogue and the neighborhood. He had been sitting on his home more or less waiting for it to hatch, but now says he eventually decided he preferred to stay in his house. Two things, he said, changed his mind. One was his ex-wife, who was looking forward to being bought out by UNR, moved out. The other was that the real estate economy went south, which made him think in terms of not being able to sell for a price he wanted. Now that he is on the property alone, he is content to stay. But he said, “I would say that some of the people up and down the road who had purchased properties on speculation could have a serious problem here.”
Another way a change in public policy can cut two ways came when the Davidson Math building construction began. It was a symbol of building up instead of out, which protected the neighborhoods, but homes along Evans Avenue lost their view of the Sierra as a result.
And construction on both the Davidson Math building and a women’s athletic facility on the old Manogue campus both created friction with neighbors because of 6:30 a.m. start times and volume of noise.