Mackay Building honored by city as 'Significant Historic Resource'

5/9/2007 7:00:00 AM

The Mackay School of Mines Building has always been one of the anchors of the University of Nevada, Reno campus. For a century, the dignified brick structure with the classic white columns has been home to thousands of students and faculty who worked to establish the school's worldwide reputation for excellence.

On Wednesday, in the Reno City Council Chambers, the City of Reno presented representatives from Mackay with the "Significant Historic Resource Award" for renovation of the Mackay School of Mines Building. A lunch sponsored by the Historic Reno Preservation Society was held after the awards ceremony.

The award capped a 25-year effort by a number of individuals, including former Dean James Taranik -– who today serves as the director of the Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering –- to save one of the campus' most treasured structural resources.

Taranik reflected on the value of the Mackay Building, as well as the work that has marked its remarkable renaissance.

"When I became dean of the Mackay School of Mines in 1982, I was told that the historic Mackay School of Mines Building was not earthquake resistant, was a significant hazard to students and staff and would have to be torn down," Taranik said. "It was rumored there was a plan to expand our historic quad up to the front of the Ansari Business Building. Much of this is probably just lore, but this did present a management opportunity for a new dean of Mines."

Working with Mackay faculty Tom Lugaski and Joe Lintz, Taranik was able to get the building listed in 1984 on the National List of Historic Buildings.

"We emphasized the fact that the building was designed by the famous architectural firm of Stanford White in 1906," Taranik said of the American Renaissance architect who was killed in 1906 in a widely reported and sensationalized lover's duel. "It has the classic Stanford White signature of a dome of Gustivino inside the columns and is one of the few White building west of the Mississippi River."

The effort then took a fortuitous turn politically, when Nevada graduate and chairman of the National Republican Party Frank Fahrenkopf, called Taranik one evening in 1985 to tell the Mackay dean that there was an opportunity for federal funds for Mackay.

"Frank had learned that that House Democrats had recommended a Polymer Chemistry Building for (retiring Speaker of the House) Tip O'Neill at the University of Massachusetts," Taranik remembered. "The Senate Republicans had lined out their appropriation, and Frank wondered if I had a project at Mackay that could be a match on the Senate side for (Nevada Sen.) Paul Laxalt, who was also retiring."

Over a long weekend, Taranik wrote a proposal for the development of a Mackay Strategic Materials Education, Research and Policy Center at the University. Then, in 1986, $15 million was approved for the University through monies derived from the sale of minerals from the National Strategic Mineral Stockpile Transactions Fund. The funds provided for the construction of the Laxalt Mineral Research Center ($10 million) and Mackay Strategic Materials Policy Center, which include the rehabilitation of the Mines Building and construction of the DeLaMare Library ($5 million).

In 1987, the University's administration also moved to include the College of Engineering Library in the DeLaMare Library, which pushed the costs of the project to about $7.5 million, Taranik said. John Livermore donated $1.25 million, which was matched by royalty funds from the Mackay Section in the Marigold Mine in Humboldt County.

"It's taken quite a lot of work by a number of people to get where we are today," Taranik said. "Our building is something that the entire campus, as well as the entire community, should be quite proud of."


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