University of South Florida (USF) Recreation & Wellness will soon be adding an exciting, new offering for students. Expected to open in early summer, a state-of-the-art bouldering wall will change the landscape of the Campus Recreation Center.
Jason Gosch, the assistant director of Outdoor Recreation, said the project first came from students who encouraged former Student Body president Moneer Kheireddine in early 2019 to champion a full-scale climbing wall.
“Students thought it would look cool and be fun to try,” said Gosch. “Staff involved in the planning process knew climbing was a social activity that significantly affected a student’s sense of belonging, helped newer students find community and could easily be an eye-catching, top-tier facility on campus. The idea quickly received attention and support from students and staff alike.”
While funding existed for the development, Gosch said operations looked too costly for the budget at the time. The plan was then scaled back to a more manageable bouldering wall. In 2020, funding was obtained to build and install the wall as a retrofit to one of six racquetball courts slowly losing popularity among newer students.
Bouldering Wall Features and Benefits
The wall’s dimensions are set to fit into the traditional racquetball court space — 20 feet by 40 feet and 14 feet tall. There will also be 14-inch thick safety padding on the floor. Gosch said the exact facets of the wall were designed by three undergraduate students who majored in architecture, engineering and mechanical engineering. They all loved climbing and worked in the Outdoor Recreation department.
“Thomas Mackiewicz, Sara Gizzi and John Dougherty spent countless hours back-and-forth with the climbing wall company, Kumiki Climbing, to create a wall that would be enjoyed by beginners through advanced climbers,” said Gosch. “The wall will feature slabs, overhangs, a roof, multiple volumes and textures varying from low to high depending on the feature.”
Gosch said the new bouldering wall will be very visible within the main recreation facility and will likely draw a lot of attention. “Our strategic goals include reaching out to new students who may not feel inspired by traditional forms of recreation,” said Gosch. “Undoubtedly, this will help bring in those new faces to our spaces and hopefully create new pockets of students finding their belonging at USF.”
Moreover, Gosch said the social connections and physical benefits of climbing are well-documented assets for student success. The hope for Recreation & Wellness is climbers will find new friends, develop their passions and create their way to holistic success while at USF.
Tips and Advice
Gosch offered a series of tips for campus recreation departments looking to develop similar projects. Namely, he said soliciting student feedback should be the very first action step.
“More than just your rock-climbing club will use this facility, so make sure to get fair and unbiased surveys out on campus to prove initial support,” said Gosch. “Then, build off that support with industry metrics. There’s plenty of peer-reviewed research surrounding climbing facilities, not to mention your peer universities that likely already have them and can comment to their success.”
Also, Gosch said to continue involving students throughout the process. Include them in surveys about designs and with creating marketing hype during installation. He noted having three interns design and plan their facility was a positive involvement.
Lastly, be prepared for possible delays. Gosch said it takes many stars to align for a large-scale plan to come together. Getting enormous steel beams to campus, supporting a drop ceiling and increasing ADA accessibility takes time and effort.
“Don’t underestimate bureaucracy,” said Gosch. “Our bouldering wall was funded in February 2020, manufactured in October 2020 and we are still awaiting installation. COVID-19 had a minor impact. It’s mostly around involvement of Facilities Management coordinating with the manufacturer, general contractor and architecture firms to get everyone on the same page.”
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