Thursday, Jan. 25, 2007 | 7:02 a.m.
Efforts to marry UNLV's journalism program with 21st century technology advanced Wednesday with the groundbreaking of a new academic hall to house the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs.
The college's programs currently operate mostly out of trailers on the west side of campus and will be consolidated within the new Greenspun Hall.
When completed in June 2008, the five-story facility on Maryland Parkway at University Road will house classrooms and laboratories for students pursuing journalism and media studies, communication studies, criminal justice, public administration, social work and environmental studies.
With 2,300 students pursuing its degrees, the urban affairs college is the fifth largest of 12 colleges at UNLV, behind business, liberal arts, education and hotel administration.
Standing to gain most by Greenspun Hall is the university's journalism program, which will receive new television and radio studios and up to $9 million in new digital recording and editing equipment, including four computer laboratories.
"This is not just a new building, this is a whole new age for journalism and media studies in Nevada," said Ardyth Sohn, director of the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies.
The 121,000-square-foot Greenspun Hall is expected to cost $93.7 million, of which $37 million has been donated by the Greenspun family, owners of the Las Vegas Sun. The Greenspuns first became involved in the university in 1989, when the journalism program was named for family patriarch Hank.
Hank Greenspun founded and published the Las Vegas Sun, started Las Vegas' first television station and brought cable television to the valley.
The journalism school has been updating its curriculum to reflect the technology that will be built in at the new hall. For instance, the school has begun teaching podcasting and other forms of emerging media. One key component of the new building will be a convergence laboratory, where students will learn how to tell stories across multiple mediums: print, television, radio and the Web.
Broadcast students will also be able to download and store their high-definition digital recordings and pull up their work on any computer in the building to edit, said Laurie Fruth, assistant director of the journalism school and general manager of UNLV-TV. Students now use analog tape equipment.
"This is a monumental shift from where we've been to where we need to be," Fruth said. "It will enable us to teach our students on the same kind of equipment they are going to see when they get out in the real world and start looking for a job."
In their efforts to improve the program and apply for accreditation, journalism directors have increased admission standards for the major, requiring a 3.0 overall GPA and B's or better in pre-journalism classes. Students must also pass an entrance exam testing their grammar skills and submit a writing sample.
When Sohn arrived in 2005, 1,000 students were enrolled in journalism degree programs, and the school had nine full-time professors. She has since hired three more professors and hopes to prune the number of students enrolled in the major to a more manageable 350 to 400 to better assure they can enroll in the requisite classes and graduate in four years.
Greenspun Hall will also provide new laboratory space for the criminal justice department and environmental studies. In some ways, the whole building is a laboratory in that it will meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold standards and will include solar panels on the roof, enough to generate 15 percent of the building's electricity needs.
The building is one of several construction projects at UNLV, including a new science and engineering building and a recreation center alongside a recently completed student union.
Greenspun Hall, to be distinguished by a 125-foot tower, is expected to set the architectural tone for Midtown UNLV, a project to renovate Maryland Parkway.
Brian Greenspun, president and editor of the Sun, said his family continued to increase its donation to the project as costs skyrocketed because it wanted to build something that would push the university forward and "set the bar" for future projects.
He hoped that other donors and state lawmakers would step up their support for UNLV.
"It is going to evolve, and it deserves to evolve," Greenspun said of the university.