Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2018

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6 takeaways from UNLV’s ambitious growth plan

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Image courtesy of TSK Architects / Co Architects

The future home of the UNLV School of Medicine.

In its first 60 years, UNLV grew from a 13,000-square-foot building ­— a little more than a 10th of an average modern Walmart store ­— to hundreds of classrooms on about 2,500 acres of property at sites across the valley.

So what changes will happen next?

Celebrating its 60th anniversary throughout the 2017-18 school year, UNLV President Len Jessup took time to discuss what’s ahead during a recent interview with The Sunday.

Although it’s a little early to predict what the university will look like in 2077, Jessup offered a vision of the next five to 10 years of growth and change at UNLV. Here are some of the more significant changes on the horizon.

The Innovation Center in North Las Vegas

One of UNLV’s most ambitious long-range initiatives is to develop 2,000 recently acquired acres in North Las Vegas into a major research and innovation center.

“It would be a home for big science that needs a lot of room for testing and development,” Jessup said. “We’ve talked about creating a simulated cityscape where we’d be testing autonomous vehicles, for instance.”

Site for graduate programs

In the next four or five years, look for UNLV to begin developing the 42-acre site it purchased last year near Tropicana Avenue and Koval Lane. Jessup said the university would concentrate its graduate programs on the site, with the main campus being used for undergraduate education. Tentative plans also call for residential space, shopping and dining areas, a conference center and classrooms for various uses, including educational outreach and business courses.

Indoor research

Construction is set to begin soon on a third building at the Harry Reid Research & Technology Park. Jessup said that in contrast to the North Las Vegas site, the 122-acre master-planned park provides space for indoor research. Catamaran, an Illinois-based pharmaceutical company, and charter school American Preparatory Academy occupy the two buildings currently on the site.

Maryland Parkway growth

In the near term, there will be ongoing development along the Maryland Parkway corridor­— University Park apartments on the north end of campus and a new office and parking garage complex on the east side of the parkway. Recently, the university obtained a building near the Nevada System of Higher Education’s Las Vegas office at 4300 S. Maryland Parkway, where online education operations have been moved.

Medical school

Less visible changes include the ongoing establishment of the medical school, whose first class of students began their studies this year.

“The most immediate benefit to the region is that if you’re a really good undergraduate student, you no longer have to go out of state for medical school,” Jessup said. “You can finish and then stay here, and we can begin addressing the acute shortage of doctors in our state.

“As we build out specialities in cancer, cardiology and other key areas, people in the region can stay here for those needs.”

Once the medical school is up and running with a full complement of classes, Jessup said, “you’ll see this university with a $2 billion to $3 billion economic impact.”

Increased enrollment

UNLV’s enrollment, which recently hit 30,000, is on a steadily upward trajectory and will continue to grow, Jessup said. He is forecasting the number to hit 40,000 in 10 years.

“I think that people in the community and around the country are seeing that we’re working hard to become a better university and school of choice for students applying,” Jessup said.

“We’re not just a backup university. We continue to be an incredible value as well.”

A key initiative is to continue forming public-private partnerships to drive development, which would spare UNLV from relying on increases in tuition and student fees to grow. At less than $8,000 for in-state attendees, UNLV’s tuition is below average. The university wants to keep it there to help attract students. Examples of successful public-private partnerships include a seven-year deal with Cox Communications that included expansion of the campus Wi-Fi network and an agreement with data company Switch that allowed UNLV to access Intel’s Cherry Creek supercomputer.