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UNR says deal to house students at Circus Circus Reno nearly done

University of Nevada, Reno, officials said Wednesday in Las Vegas that they are moving forward with a plan to house students displaced by a massive dormitory explosion on the campus at Circus Circus Reno this fall.

At a town hall-style meeting for students and parents, Romando A. Nash, associate vice president for Student Life Services, said the university was “pretty confident” that an agreement with Eldorado Resorts to convert the nongaming Sky Tower at Circus Circus Reno into student housing is imminent.

University officials declined to release the cost of the agreement until it’s complete. Representatives for the company said they could not comment.

Nash said the university had looked at a number of options to house the 1,300 students displaced by the explosion — including other resorts and timeshares — but none offered the arrangement possible at Sky Tower.

“The most important thing was to keep all the students housed together,” he said.

Marketing materials produced

Even without a final agreement, the university has already created marketing materials announcing the rebranding of the building as Wolf Pack Tower, which would be open to only students and have the same service-oriented program as Argenta Hall.

Nash said the goal is still to send out housing assignments by the end of this week, and that some students have already expressed interest in living in Wolf Pack Tower.

Depending on the response, it is possible that some students who were not slated to live in Nye or Argenta Halls may find themselves assigned to Wolf Pack Tower, Nash said. But the university does not expect to need to double- or triple-up students in campus housing to accommodate everyone.

One speaker at the first of two Las Vegas events on Wednesday said she would under no circumstances accept a housing assignment at Circus Circus for her son. But she was told that the university would not release her from the contract, as it is fulfilling its obligation to provide housing. She was told to call the university housing office to try to make other arrangements.

Classes begin Aug. 27, but freshmen will begin to arrive on campus on Aug. 18 for a transition program.

The cost for living in the new building will be on par with Argenta Hall at $5,800 for the year, but would represent an increase of $150 for students who had planned to live at Nye Hall.

Sky Tower has been remodeled in recent years, and the university plans to add more laundry facilities and study areas before students move in.

Students would be assigned key-cards to ensure that the general public is kept out of the tower. Two resident advisers would be stationed on each floor, and university police plan to establish a presence in the building and patrol the adjoining parking garage.

The university has a relationship with Circus Circus, as faculty and staff park at the resort to avoid university parking fees.

Safety concerns

However, some parents expressed concerns that the university could not extend security outside the building. Sky Tower is approximately in downtown Reno, about a half-mile from Argenta Hall, and would be served by a stop on the campus shuttle arriving every 7 1/2 minutes. Students would have to walk or take PACKTransit to reach classes, as well as the temporary dining space set up because the main dining hall was also damaged in the July 5 explosion.

University police said they intended to work with Reno police to keep students safe.

Sky Tower and its adjoining garage are separate from the casino facility, unlike the casino’s North Tower, where a guest was killed on the 19th floor on July 19. Police say video surveillance showed Tevin Raeshaun Johnson, believed to be homeless, loitering in the casino before taking the elevator to different hotel floors until he encountered his victim, 37-year-old Amber Morris of Moreno Valley, California.

In a separate incident, in June, two people were assaulted in the north parking garage. No arrests have been made in that case.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation, but the university has inspected the boilers at other campus buildings in the interim — another concern parents raised.

Beyond safety, parents asked about closet space in the hotel rooms, and plans to ensure that students at Wolf Pack Tower can access campus facilities.

Heidi DeCristoforo, mother of an incoming freshman, said she worries that living off campus would result in her son struggling to make the connections necessary to have a successful college experience — something she says she witnessed with two of her other children.

Considering other arrangements

“If I was speaking to a sophomore, I’d say take the queen-sized beds,” she said. “But an 18-year-old freshman is not going to get on a bus to get to class, or to get to the dining hall in 20-degree weather.”

DeCristoforo said she wants the university to monitor student engagement and dropouts until winter break and indicated that she would consider sending her son to another school if those concerns were not addressed.

She also suggested that upperclassmen be moved to Wolf Pack Tower to allow first-year students to live on campus. However, Nash said that only about 600 upperclassmen live at UNR, and most live in single apartments that would not benefit freshmen.

Incoming sophomore Araam Zaremehrjard, who lived in a Nevada Living Learning Community building his first year, said that parents were being too harsh in their criticism of the plan. While safety was a concern, he said he would walk with friends to get around.

“As for the rooms, those are a big upgrade,” Zaremehrjard said.

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

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