RENO, Nev. -- The University of Nevada, Reno, signed a $21.7 million lease agreement Thursday to house 1,300 students at a hotel-casino for the coming school year after a natural gas explosion in July forced two dorms to close.
Students will live in single and double rooms in a non-gambling hotel tower across the street from Circus Circus — separate from the casino. UNR President Marc Johnson announced the deal with a subsidiary of Eldorado Resorts, owner of the hotel-casino a half-mile (1 kilometer) from campus in the main casino district.
"The university community is fortunate that our longtime community partner Eldorado Resorts understands what the needs of our program are and has agreed to work with us on transitioning their property into a residence space where our students will live, study and thrive," Johnson said.
A July 5 explosion in a basement boiler room at Argenta Hall led to a much larger gas blast that blew out walls and windows but caused only minor injuries to eight people.
Argenta Hall and neighboring Nye Hall, which also was damaged, both will remain closed for a year or longer. School officials hope to reopen Nye Hall in August 2020 and Argenta Hall in August 2021.
Johnson said the school's insurance claim will help finance the one-year lease that covers the entire west tower of Circus Circus, a block west of the main building. A second-floor skywalk and tram connects the buildings.
Students will have separate non-casino entrances with a key-card entry system, around-the-clock security and shuttle buses to campus, Johnson said. They'll also have free use of one of the hotel-casino's parking garages where about 300 university staff and faculty members already park and walk to campus.
Rates will be the same as at on-campus dorms, about $5,600 a year for double rooms.
The casino itself has a circus theme with a carnival midway on the second floor filled with arcade games surrounding a stage with circus acts, including acrobats, trained animals and trapeze artists.
Anthony Carano, president and chief operating officer of Eldorado Resorts, said his company is honored to partner with the university to provide "a workable solution to its unexpected student housing needs."
"Eldorado Resorts will do everything within our reach to ensure that Wolf Pack students are provided a quality living experience," he said, referring to the school's nickname.
Students enrolled for the fall semester are scheduled to begin moving into residence halls on Aug. 17. None have received their housing assignments because the two dorms were closed, but those will be sent out Friday now that the hotel deal is complete, school officials said.
The cause of the initial explosion in the basement boiler room at the dorm remains under investigation.
State Fire Marshal Bart Chambers said it occurred while a contractor was working on the boiler that had developed mechanical problems and had been shut down earlier in the week.
Preliminary information showed the initial blast started a small fire that was extinguished by sprinkler systems. Chambers said natural gas started leaking from a feeder line to the boiler, but investigators have not yet determined how the gas ignited.