Argenta Hall not Expected to Re-Open Until Fall of 2021

Courtesy Photo
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak tours the Downunder Cafe in the Argenta dorm on the University of Nevada, Reno campus last week. The dorm was badly damaged by a natural gas explosion on July 5.

By Scott Sonner
Associated Press

RENO — The first look at the damage inside provided to local media since a natural gas explosion blew out walls and windows at a University of Nevada, Reno dormitory last week reaffirmed earlier descriptions from school officials who likened it to the scene of a major earthquake.

Structural engineers who have worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency responding to earthquakes and other disasters already were helping school officials lay the groundwork Thursday to rebuild the dorm rocked by the July 5 natural gas blast that followed a smaller explosion in a basement boiler.

“It’s something I’d never seen before — something I never expected to see,” UNR Police Chief Todd Renwick told reporters on Thursday before they donned hard hats to tour a portion of the firstfloor cafeteria that served as the main dining hall on campus.

Sunshine pouring in through gaping holes in the walls lit the tables, chairs and floors littered with sheet rock and broken glass.

Metal doors blown off their frames hung next to pieces of light fixtures that crashed to the ground and a flat screen TV still dangling from its wall brace. But in an earie reminder of the moment disaster struck, serving spoons were still poking upright in the salad dressing on the salad bar near a row of bagels.

Only eight people suffered minor injuries because the dorm and a neighboring one were mostly empty when the Friday afternoon blast was triggered during the long Fourth of July weekend.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak toured the same area on Wednesday and tweeted that “we are truly blessed that there were no fatalities or serious injuries.”

Both of the dormitories damaged in the explosion will remain closed for at least a year and the most severely damaged one isn’t expected to reopen until at least the fall of 2021.

School officials said Monday they’re making progress on plans to find housing for 1,300 students who were scheduled to live in Argenta and Nye halls when the fall semester begins at the end of next month.

But experts have determined there was little structural damage to weight-baring walls so plans for rebuilding already are underway.

UNR spokeswoman Kerri Garcia said they have a number of experts helping out from the Nevada Urban Search and Rescue Task Force who have done past work with FEMA.

UNR Executive Vice President Kevin Carman said during a briefing Tuesday the overall damage to the building was “essentially … all superficial.”

“It seems hard to believe when you look at it,” he said.

School officials say they’re already developing requests for architectural design and rebuilding of the residence halls. They hope Nye can reopen by fall 2020 and Argenta by fall 2021.