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Parents in Las Vegas want answers on UNR blast’s impact on students

As University of Nevada, Reno, officials survey the damage from last week’s explosion that badly damaged two dorms, some parents are complaining that the university has failed to communicate with them about the incident and how it may affect students.

Friday’s explosion damaged parts of two residential buildings and a dining hall and injured eight people. The cause was still unknown Monday, though unspecified mechanical failure is suspected, according to information compiled by university staff.

The university is scrambling to provide accommodations for students on campus for the summer term and determine housing assignments for fall, all while attempting to reunite students from Argenta and Nye halls with their salvageable belongings.

Las Vegas resident Angela Cox said Monday that while her son has received a few email updates, she believes the university should contact parents as well, particularly regarding housing and any potential losses.

‘Now what?’

“We paid and signed for those dorms, and now what?” she said. “I would hope that they reimburse us, because we can’t afford to re-buy everything he might have lost.”

Cox said her son, Thomas, was home for the Fourth of July holiday when he received an email from his roommate that their dorm building had exploded. The 18-year-old had left most of his belongings, including nearly all of his clothing and essential military documents, on campus.

She thought about flying back to Reno with him on Sunday, but he pointed out that she’d have nowhere to stay and that the money for a plane ticket might be needed to purchase new supplies, including a computer.

Cox credits university staff for providing her son with sheets and a blanket as he adjusts to a new dorm at Peavine Hall, but she said she is concerned that he will have to take his finals this week without needed materials.

“I know they’re doing the best they can, and we’re thankful that he’s OK. And I know that this is college, but it’s a lot for an 18-year-old to handle,” Cox said.

Chris Floyd, who has a son, Raymond, at UNR and a daughter at UC Santa Barbara, said there has been a stark difference between how those universities handled incidents affecting their campuses. During wildfires, mudslides and other incidents, UCSB provided regular updates assuring parents that their children were safe, he said. In contrast, he said, he has heard nothing from UNR.

“We have lost a little confidence in UNR over the lack of communication and the lack of information being given to us,” said Floyd, who lives in Jackson, California, about 50 miles southeast of Sacramento.

Floyd said he had just dropped off his son for the last week of his summer term when the sophomore called him back and said his dorm building had blown up.

At first, Floyd thought he was joking, but after receiving photos of the damage he flew him home.

Now he’s waiting to hear whether his son will have access to his clothing, supplies and medicines, or if he will have to replace them.

Expecting compensation

Floyd said he expects the university to either directly compensate or reimburse families for the losses.

“And once they acknowledge what the problem was, the facilities also need to be inspected, so we parents feel more comfortable sending our kids there,” Floyd said.

Floyd added that the incident was an impetus for his son’s decision to move off campus during the next school year, but he worries that it will cause a spike in rent around campus.

Ray Murphy, another Las Vegas resident and the father of a senior and a sophomore at UNR, said his older daughter felt and heard the explosion from her off-campus apartment.

But with the exception of a couple of emails the university sent to his daughter, Murphy said, he mostly has been getting updates via social media.

Though his children won’t be residing in the dorms this year, Murphy said, he wants to know whether the incident will affect tuition if the university needs to charge a fee for cleanup, or if it will create long lines at other dining halls.

“But our largest concern is, how did this happen?” Murphy said. “If it happened at one building, could it happen at another?”

In response to questions about building inspections and potential compensation, UNR spokeswoman Natalie Fry said discussions are continuing and that the university will provide updates when they are available.

A website compiled by UNR staff says the university has “no reason to believe that the other residence halls are unsafe” and that the buildings are “well-maintained year-round with inspections conducted on regular schedules.”

UNR’s website says students from Argenta Hall will be relocated to another residence hall, but that dorm assignments will be delayed as a result. Nye Hall may be usable for the upcoming school year, according to the university, but officials are searching for a dining option that can handle the volume.

Meanwhile, donations of clothing and basic essentials have poured in, the university announced on Twitter.

Senior Rissa Coleman, a Las Vegas resident who heard the explosion while working in the library, said she was surprised and somewhat irritated that the university was asking for donations at all, given the rising costs of attendance.

Her sentiment was echoed by others on social media over the weekend, with some saying that student fees for a range of services such as parking, facilities and registration should be enough to cover supplies for students in need. Others said those affected should be offered reduced tuition.

“It’s concerning to me that I pay so much, but if an incident would happen on campus in housing that they are in charge of … they wouldn’t even buy me hygiene products immediately afterward,” Coleman said.

Students with concerns about housing or food are encouraged to reach out to the university’s housing services at 775-784-1113, 775-682-8241 or housing@unr.edu.

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at aappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0218, or follow her on Twitter at @aleksappleton.