Climbing Walls, Space Capacity and More Roundtable Takeaways

virtual roundtable reopening

On May 15, 2020, Campus Rec Magazine hosted the COVID-19 Virtual Roundtable: Reopening and More.


  • Daniel Lawrence, the director of Campus Recreation at Utah State University
  • Andy Lemons, the director of Campus Recreation at St. Edward’s University
  • Steven Trotter, the associate director of Wellness and Fitness at East Carolina University (ECU)
  • Tina Villard, the senior associate Athletic Director and the Recreation Center Director at Rice University

Below are some of the top takeaways from the roundtable:

Cleaning and Physical Distancing on Climbing/Bouldering Facilities

Lawrence said at Utah State, one of the more popular areas of the rec center is in fact the climbing wall/bouldering area. With a 53-foot tall climbing wall and 14-foot tall bouldering wall, they have had to take into consideration how to serve students with this popular offering.

As such, the current plan is to close the climbing wall. Lawrence said it’s too hard to keep harnesses and ropes clean. Plus, it’s really difficult to keep social distancing rules.

So, they plan to only offer bouldering. There will be a limit of four patrons at a time in the bouldering area. They will not be allowed to sit down, as the climbing culture typically likes to hang out. The department will also only allow liquid chalk.

Precautions for Employee/Patron Protection Measures

Both Villard and Lawrence said their facilities will be using plexiglass at the front desk. Villard mentioned they are also looking at things like door handles and asking where can they make changes to make the environment even safer.

Trotter noted ECU is looking to decrease physical touchpoints. They are making sure to have enough barcode scanners and are viewing credit card readers to ensure they are all touchless. Plus, they are looking at the flow of staff and patrons through the building.

Lawrence shared the flow at Utah State will be creating “in” and “out” doors with hand sanitizer supplied at each. And only two staff members will be behind the front desk at any given time.

At Rice University, staff will be provided with reusable cloth masks. But Villard said the most important thing when setting guidelines for your staff/patron safety is to pay attention to city and state regulations.

Virtual Program Offerings into the Fall

It can be denied no longer: we are in a digital age.

Lemons said if you aren’t a tech person, you need to become one. A virtual presence is now a must. At St. Edward’s, they are looking at where they can amplify virtual opportunities.

And, it’s key to remember students are connected to your school’s fitness instructors; that community connection is better than any high-end virtual fitness production with fitness trainers students aren’t connected to. Villard said by having instructors connect on Zoom with patrons, it keeps those valuable touchpoints.

Lemons agreed. “We can’t just replace the ECU, Rice and Utah State fitness instructors with an online version, even if we think [a nationally recognized fitness instructor] is better,” he said.

And while before COVID-19 they didn’t have time to build virtual offerings, Lawrence said now they do. Those offerings will go out to the multiple campuses that are part of Utah State, bringing recreation to the larger university audience.

All in all, Trotter said virtual fitness won’t take away from the in-person experience, but it can add to it. As such, it needs to be an option. “It’s just another item on your menu to offer,” he said. 

Restrooms/Locker Rooms

Opening on June 1, Lawrence said Utah State will be proposing to have the locker rooms open. Closing off a number of lockers, they will only sell lockers that will allow them to stay committed to social distancing. After months of lost revenue, it will be a welcomed profit center.

Only seven people would be allowed at a time in the locker rooms, going off of the calculation of one person for every 100 square feet. In order to regulate that number and the cleaning of the space, they will have a locker room bouncer/greeter. Plus, cleaning supplies will be available in hopes patrons do their part to keep the locker room clean.

Thoughts on Air Sanitization

While various options are out there, they can be expensive. Lemons said with the various budget cuts, he along with other schools won’t be able to afford such things.

As such, Lawrence suggested if possible — as it depends on location and humidity — you can open as many windows and doors as possible. This will help promote clean air flowing through the facility.

Using Outdoors Fitness/Equipment

With two outdoor complexes at ECU, Trotter said they have done pop up classes outside in the past. So, when weather allows, they will add such opportunities to existing options.

Lemons shared one of their more popular programs was taking Group X classes to others on campus — think residence halls and such. They will still accomplish this but will do that outside of the spaces they go to host the class.

His biggest concern for outdoor equipment, however, is keeping it clean. That is one deterrent in terms of using outdoor equipment when reopening.

Capacity of Spaces and Patron Flow

Trotter said it helps to view your rec center like a shopping mall. “You don’t want to limit people that want to go do something that 90 percent of the other people in the building aren’t doing and you tell them, ‘we are at capacity so you can’t go in’ and they say ‘I see that there is no one ever there,’” he explained.

As such, Utah State is determining occupancy numbers for each location in the rec center, versus a total capacity number. And Lemons suggested the idea of having a bouncer/greeter for each room or area to keep those numbers in check.

Heather Hartmann
Heather Hartmann is the editor for Campus Rec Magazine. She can be reached at

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