Feature Article - April 2011
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Ascending on a Budget

Making Money-Smart Decisions With Climbing Walls

By Daniel P. Smith

Standing tall in Fort Collins, Colo., a hotbed for the nation's rock-climbing scene at an altitude of 5,000 feet, Colorado State University did not have—ironically to many—a recreational climbing wall on its 25,000-student campus.

The longtime 100,000-square-foot on-campus student recreation center featured a variety of amenities to entice physical fitness and play, but the absence of a rock-climbing wall consistently drew the attention and ire of students, many of whom considered the wall's absence a glaring omission from the campus recreational scene. It was a vocal sentiment campus leadership took seriously when they began fashioning renovation and addition plans to the student recreation center in 2007-2008.

As the Colorado State facility expanded from 100,000 square feet to 160,000 square feet and renovated every inch of the existing facility to the tune of $30 million over three years (2008 to 2011), the designers created an explicit architectural feature to host a climbing wall.

Today, a corner of the facility's addition features a pronounced, soaring roof that holds a climbing wall reaching 40 feet high. With 3,000 square feet of climbable surface coupled with a 14-foot high bouldering wall, Colorado State students now enjoy a climbing wall all their own, one outfitted with a teaching ledge on the wall's 40-foot side, a natural-looking overhang that affords guests the opportunity to propel down, practice rescue and partake in rope ascending—all desirable features that create new programming opportunities as well.

According to Rodney Ley, Colorado State University's assistant director for campus recreation, of CSU's 22,000 undergraduates, 4,500 have signed waivers to use the climbing wall, meaning 25 percent of all students have used the wall at least once. In addition, 25 percent of facility users enter the rec center solely for the wall, a student-fee-paying demographic the university's recreational offerings failed to serve just years prior.

"The wall has broadened our outreach into an entirely new user group, often attracting an otherwise uninterested athlete," Ley said. "Outside of the café in the student center, I don't know if there's another campus amenity that carries its weight as well as the climbing wall."

A novel amenity and one offering adrenaline-inducing, full-body workout power for its participants, manufactured climbing walls have showcased an ability to attract guests and entice participation at facilities across the country. Their benefits are far-reaching and varied: inviting a recreational workout beyond the traditional cardio, basketball, tennis and pool offerings; serving as a niche, alternative recreational offering for those who may not fit into the traditional athletic mix and are seeking new fitness adventures; and providing a learning venue that invites education as well as leadership and social interaction.