Feature Article - April 2011
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Ascending on a Budget

Making Money-Smart Decisions With Climbing Walls

By Daniel P. Smith

Remodeling With a Purpose

Texas A&M University first unveiled its climbing wall in 1995. An appealing amenity for students, staff and community members, the wall steadily began losing its luster with cracking and chipping of the texture by the mid-2000s, a reality that pushed facility leadership to consider a facelift.

For a few years, facility managers contemplated the new innovations, programming opportunities and industry trends they wanted to add into what would be an extensive redesign and refurbishment project. Matters became further complicated when the wall's original supplier went out of business.

"Now we didn't have these experienced partners around to do inspections and give us oversight," said Jason Kurten, the facility's indoor climbing director. "Above all, though, we were getting to the point where we were going to be soon operating an unsafe structure—and that's never a spot you want to reach."

By 2009, the time had come for action. Construction crews sealed and barricaded the existing structure, which sits in the center of the 300,000-square-foot student recreation complex, and took the wall down to its steel bones. Crews then welded and reformulated the structure, changing angles and adding square footage, before installing new plywood and a natural-looking stone texture to complete the redesign.

The new climbing wall stands nearly 45 feet high and features 3,800 square feet of climbing rock. Whereas the original wall was flat and plain, the new structure resembles rock on its front with six other sides hosting flat panels.

"We knew we had to resurface and wanted the look of real rock, but it's not something we needed on all seven sides," Kurten explained of the money-saving decision.

Texas A&M saved money in other areas as well. With an existing climbing program in place, the facility had all of the climbing holds it needed, thereby trimming that need out of the budget and saving $5,000. The facility also built a bouldering spot 100 feet away from the wall. With 800 square feet of climbing space, the 13-foot-tall bouldering wall features a top-edge handrail. Both the climbing and bouldering walls are open to non-members for a fee, an administrative decision that has attracted added revenue to cover the project's costs.

The result has been one of the campus' most popular recreation activities, beloved for its look, feel and design as well as the route-setting potential that creates added excitement.

"A lot think taller is better, but from the climber, routesetter, and manager's perspective, I'll take width any day over height," Kurten said. "Literally and figuratively, the wall is the centerpiece of our center."