Problem Solver - August 2008
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Building a Climbing Wall

Climbing is growing in popularity and as a result, climbing walls are increasingly seen at recreation facilities across the country, from college campuses to YMCAs, elementary schools to fitness clubs and beyond. Recreation directors with room to grow should consider such an addition, but concerns about cost and safety may prevent you from investigating this option more closely. Read on to learn more about how to make a climbing wall investment work for you.

Q: We're concerned about rising costs. How much will a climbing wall cost, and what are some creative ways we can raise the money?

A: The cost of the climbing wall will depend on the size and type of wall you build, as well as the specifics of your facility and region. To get a truly accurate estimate, you'll have to discuss all of these issues with your manufacturer. That said, prices can range anywhere from $35 to $100 per square foot, depending on the type of wall you build. Additional costs will be incurred for climbing equipment, auto belays, the landing surface and training for your staff.

Of course, funding your climbing wall aspirations can present challenges, but there are creative approaches to fundraising that will serve you well. For example, you can raise funds through community outreach by seeking out people willing to contribute both large and small amounts. Sponsorships by local businesses are another option. Allowing them to place banners in your facility or put their logo on the wall or landing surface is a clever way to partner with such businesses.

Grants are also available through various agencies and organizations, so brush up your grant-writing skills and you can likely find additional sources of funding.

Q: What type of climbing wall is right for our facility?

A: There are many types of climbing walls, but generally speaking, you have three choices. The decision you make will depend on your budget, space requirements and other facility-specific factors. A custom-built climbing wall can act as a showpiece for your facility. These are commonly built to be seen from outside, and in that way, they act on their own as a marketing tool for your facility. They are a beautiful addition, but of course, they come with a higher price tag as well.

For a lower-cost option that still provides an aesthetically pleasing finished product, consider purchasing a wall that is prefabricated offsite. This option offers a quicker installation with less mess, making it ideal for adding to already-finished recreation centers.

Panel systems offer the lowest-cost alternative. On an existing wall, panel systems offer the quickest installation.

Q: How can we manage safety on a climbing wall?

A: It's not enough to build a wall and let your patrons run loose. As part of the planning process, you'll also want to pay close attention to landing surfaces. As with playgrounds, there are loose-fill options, generally loose-chunk rubber, and poured-in-place options, each offering its own pros and cons. Your wall's manufacturer can walk you through the various options to ensure you select the right surface with the appropriate thickness to protect patrons from serious harm.

Auto belays have grown in popularity as a way for climbers to climb without a human belay partner. Instead, belaying is done automatically by a special device. If you're concerned about safety, you should consider a safety system for your auto belays, which will allow you to monitor auto belay use on your wall. The technology determines if climbers are not attached to the auto belay device through a sensor on the wall, sounding an alarm and alerting the climber as well as staff. The height at which the activation occurs, as well as the type of alarm, can be customized to suit your needs.

Above all else, you'll want to ensure your staff is properly trained to ensure patrons' safety on the wall. Your manufacturer may offer training courses, or you can check out the Climbing Wall Association's Climbing Wall Instructor Certification Program.

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