Reno’s new molecular medicine center studies things at a microscopic level, but there is nothing minuscule about its significance.

The University of Nevada School Medicine opened the $77-million multidisciplinary facility on Aug. 16. It’s the school’s first new research building in nearly 30 years.

A unique public-private partnership in a slumping economy made the project a reality.

The center received money from federal research grants, state sources and private backers, including the Whittemore Family Foundation. The Nevada Legislature earmarked $10 million for the center in 2005.

The project additionally benefited from the recession with lower-than-budgeted pricing that enabled upgraded finishes and added equipment. Sparks-based Clark & Sullivan Construction was the general contractor, with Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, Albuquerque, as architect.

The center broke ground in 2007.

“This new building places scientists and physicians together in a uniquely collaborative environment,” says Annette Whittemore, who donated millions toward construction. “It encourages the rapid translation of basic and clinical research into vital patient treatments.”

The 140,000-sq-ft complex consists of two buildings – one for offices, the other for labs. The structures are linked together with a 40-ft-long, metal-and-glass enclosed sky bridge. Both buildings are supported by a steel-frame skeleton with a skin of brick and glass, exposed concrete and metal panels.

The brick fa�ade is a nod to the university’s existing architectural character, while two-tone gray metal panels and concrete block give it a contemporary, industrial feel.

“The building is the first building you see from McCarran Boulevard,” says Dekker/Perich/Sabatini Nevada managing partner Christopher Larsen. “It was designed to be the new north face of campus. We wanted the architecture to be contemporary but still respectful of the university campus.”

The center, on eight acres, anchors the northern edge of the medicine school near Enterprise Road and Evans Avenue. The complex is built on an east-to-west slope, giving each building its own distinctive profile. One is 73 ft tall, the other is 65 ft, yet both buildings are three stories high.

“The project’s toughest challenge was addressing the sloped site,” says Clark & Sullivan senior project manager Jarrett Rosenau. “The west elevation is significantly higher than the east elevation due, in part, to crummy soil conditions. The buildings rest atop an old ravine that had been filed in over time.”