Construction underway on massive new building for College of Engineering

Pennington Engineering Building features state-of-the-art research laboratories, teaching laboratories and collaborative spaces

Instead of shovels, heavy equipment took care of the requisite shovelful of dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony for the William N. Pennington Engineering Building.


10/25/2018 | By: Mike Wolterbeek |

The east side of campus looks a lot different this semester, as construction has begun on the long-planned-for new building that is making way for the fastest growing college at the University of Nevada, Reno: the College of Engineering. 

A groundbreaking ceremony was held at the construction site Oct. 23 to celebrate the William N. Pennington Engineering Building project. Governor Brian Sandoval, Regent Rick Trachok and University President Marc Johnson were on hand and made remarks about the long-awaited project. 

“For the past several years, the University and the College of Engineering have embarked upon a number of important initiatives that are in alignment with the state of Nevada’s economic goals,” Johnson said. “We have added majors, minors, degree programs and hired new faculty in areas of state economic development emphasis, including unmanned autonomous systems, cyber security, batteries and energy storage, information systems and more. 

“The William N. Pennington Engineering Building will further increase the University’s capacity to produce the graduates and R&D to keep our state’s economy growing. It will help enhance our College of Engineering at a time when growth is needed if we are to keep our state on a path of prosperity – when a skilled professional workforce is needed for the future of Nevada. A strong College of Engineering is at the center of so much of this work.” 

In the College of Engineering, enrollment has almost doubled since 2005. The college has increased tenure-track faculty to 90 positions and has plans to add 30 to 40 additional faculty in the next five years. 

The Pennington Engineering Building will feature state-of-the-art research laboratories, teaching laboratories and collaborative spaces, promoting interaction between faculty and students while accommodating future growth and providing high-tech spaces to develop nationally competitive research programs for each of the five departments in the college. 

“Awhile back I got a tour of engineering, it was apparent we needed a new building, a foundation for the new Nevada economy,” Sandoval told the crowd of about 200 people sitting at the construction site. “When I talk to the heads of corporations about coming to Nevada, the first question they ask is ‘Where do we find our engineers?’ They don’t want to recruit from out of state.” 

Sandoval gave some examples: there’s Blockchain that with as many as 20,000 employees, will be looking at the University for engineers, Panasonic and Tesla are looking at the College of Engineering for graduates and Fulcrum is converting trash to jet fuel - and they are hiring graduates from the engineering school. 

“The fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us and at the forefront of the new Nevada economy as top corporations come to Nevada,” Sandoval said. “We knew that we needed an excellent engineering school to build the workforce.” 

The project has been a long time in the making, weathering the budget storms of the recession. 

“Manos proposed this, in the heart of the great recession; undaunted, he pushed his idea of a new building,” Trachok, a former chair of the Board of Regents,said. “He took it to the (College of Engineering) advisory board, who adopted it. President Marc Johnson included it in his budget requests for 2013, 2015 and 2017. Marc reached out to the community to get private funds. Dan Klaich (NSHE Chancellor at the time), supported the request to the Regents. In May 2017 the governor’s budget, with funding for the building, was sent to the legislature. Governor Sandoval was standing up for education, he has a steadfast belief in education.” 

“In 2011 and 2013 the education budget cuts broke my heart,” Sandoval said. “In 2015 it became a real priority and placed funding for the building design in the budget. Then we gave more than asked for to education in 2017, with the $41 million for the engineering building. I applaud the tenacity of the dean, the president, the regents; this is a thrilling day – this is a big day for the University, a big day for the community and a big day for the State of Nevada.” 

Pivotal growth for students
”This is a pivotal piece in our growth, it’s forward thinking and will enhance the student experience,” College of Engineering Dean Manos Maragakis said. “This state of the art facility in is line with our strategic goals. To fulfill our mission, our vision, we knew the college would need more space, more labs and offices to become a premium college. We listened to industry, to students and to our elected officials as they planned the future. Our great strides in research, teaching and economic development for Nevada now has us bursting at the seams; our new engineering complex is coming just in time as our college continues in our mission to be a world-improving institution.” 

Maragakis began implementing his vision when he became dean of the college in 2008. 

“The 10-year approach has worked and we became the fastest growing college at the University, creating a globally competitive workforce that dovetails into the governor’s plan for Nevada,” he said. “We’ve transformed with industry, our efforts go hand in hand with economic development – we’ve listened to industry with a comprehensive approach that keeps us on a path for sustained growth.” 

Continued growth and success depends on building new space that is capable of meeting the instructional needs of a growing student body. The new building provides the modern facilities capable of supporting high-tech, cutting-edge research and laboratory space. This building will allow the College to pursue its strategic vision, serve Nevada and educate future generations of engineering professionals. 

The new building will be about 100,000 square feet, four stories tall and house more than 40 faculty offices, 150 graduate student work stations, more than 40 laboratories, a clean room, large-scale computer lab, a 200-student classroom and the Dean of the College of Engineering’s offices. 

The building’s placement on campus will also facilitate the development of an Engineering Complex, with the adjacent engineering buildings. It is located just south of the Earthquake Engineering Laboratory, joining the well-established engineering complex of Paul Laxalt Mineral Engineering, Paul Laxalt Mineral Research, Palmer Engineering, Scrugham Engineering and Mines, Harry Reid Engineering Laboratory and the Earthquake Engineering Laboratories. 

The project cost is estimated to be $91 million. The State of Nevada allocated $41.5 million for this project, the remaining will come from the University of Nevada, Reno, raised through philanthropy, private donations and University funds. The excavation work is nearly complete and foundation work will begin soon. Construction of the building is being directed by the Nevada Department of Public Works. The building was designed by H+K Architects and the contractor is CORE Construction, both of Reno, Nevada. Construction on the William N. Pennington Engineering building is slated for completion by the summer of 2020. 

“I’d also like to thank the state of Nevada for helping make this building a reality,” Johnson remarked to the crowd. “As I mentioned earlier, Governor Sandoval very early on realized what value this building would have on the future not only of our university, but what impact it would have on the future of our state. Our legislative leaders, clearly, embraced the concept and made sure it was championed in the last legislature. So, to the State of Nevada: thank you. 

“This is a building, when it is completed, will be the culmination of a significant investment by university donors and the state of Nevada in the future of engineering. More and more, the state’s economy will be fueled by engineering-related industries and professions. The ideas, knowledge, research, commercialization and entrepreneurial approaches that will jump forth from this building promise to power Nevada’s economy for decades to come.”

Share:

For more news on the University of Nevada, Reno, follow @unevadareno on Twitter.

Get Nevada Today in your Inbox!