Students Returning, Legal Battle Brews over Reno Dorm Blast

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Three years after a gas explosion ripped through a University of Nevada dormitory, hundreds of students will start moving into the remodeled building this week as a legal battle looms over more than $100 million in damages.

School officials likened the damage from the blast July 5, 2019, to that of an earthquake. They said at the time they were lucky no one was killed and only eight suffered minor injuries because the eight-story dorm was mostly empty over the holiday weekend.

A lawsuit filed in June by the University of Nevada, Reno’s insurance company says the company that serviced the boiler is to blame, the Reno Gazette Journal reported. A status conference is scheduled Aug. 25 before Washoe District Court Judge Egan Walker.

Authorities said a pipeline in the boiler room filled air ducts and elevator shafts with gas, causing a massive explosion that rattled the campus, twisted metal, blasted appliances across rooms and broke windows.

More than 700 students had been living in Argenta Hall, the largest of nine dorms on the campus just north of Reno’s downtown casino district. A neighboring dorm also was damaged and was closed for a year.

UNR President Brian Sandoval announced last week more than 700 students would begin moving into the remodeled dorm and dining hall ahead of the Aug. 29 start of the fall semester.

“Argenta is back,” Sandoval said during a reception to thank contractors, architects and university staff for helping to rebuild and for getting through the last three years.

UNR said the dorm explosion cost the university more than $130 million for repairs, remodeling, and alternate housing for students, which included refurbishing a tower of downtown Reno’s Circus Circus hotel-casino into a residence hall.

Other costs included extra security and transportation for students living in the hotel-casino, the loss of enrollment caused by the explosion and personal property lost by students and staff.

Zurich American Insurance Co., contracted by the state’s college system, has paid $124.5 million to settle various claims. It’s now going after Battle Born Boiler and Mechanical, the service contractor that at the time maintained the residence hall heating systems, the Gazette Journal reported.

Court documents filed by the insurer accuse Battle Born of improper installation, repair and maintenance of the boiler and its parts, and knowingly violating safety codes. The suit says that Battle Born was careless and negligent enough to allow the explosion to occur.

Attorneys for Battle Born, which dissolved as a company in May, and its insurance company have denied any wrongdoing but have yet to file any detailed response.

Battle Born “is without sufficient information or knowledge with which to form a belief as to the truth or falsity of the allegations,” they said in an initial answer to the complaint filed on July 19.

About the photo: This July 11, 2019, photo shows damage in the first-floor cafeteria at a University of Nevada, Reno, dormitory where a July 5 natural gas explosion blew out walls and windows, in Reno, Nev. Three years after the gas explosion ripped through a University of Nevada dormitory, hundreds of students will start moving into the remodeled building this week as a legal battle begins over more than $100 million in damages. (AP Photo/Scott Sonner, File)