UI climbing wall could reopen in January after November fall

A 21-year-old UI student fell about 30 feet, sending him to the hospital with a spinal cord injury.

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University of Iowa recreation officials hope the wellness center’s climbing wall will reopen in January, before students return, following its closure in November after a student fell about 30 feet.

Harry Ostrander, director of UI Recreational Services, said outside firms along with the university’s Department of Risk Management, Insurance and Loss Prevention have been inspecting the climbing wall, its equipment and talking with witnesses in an effort to determine what happened Nov. 8.

The wall, so far, has passed all inspections “with flying colors,” Ostrander said. The Risk Management department will release a formal report after it completes its assessment of what happened, but Ostrander said he can confirm now that the fall was not caused by a university equipment failure.

“I think they have a general idea of what happened,” Ostrander said. “But they need to come out with a thorough report so that everyone knows that everything is safe.”

On Nov. 8, at 9:54 p.m., Spencer Bean – a 21-year-old UI student and recreation services staff member assigned to work the climbing wall – fell about 30 feet, sending him to the hospital with a spinal cord injury.

Bean, who was not working at the time of his fall, landed on his feet, according to a UI police report. An online blog cataloging Bean’s fall and recovery says he fell 30 to 40 feet and remembers landing, passing out for a few seconds and waking up surrounded by people.

The blog states that Bean crushed two vertebrae and fractured a cervical vertebrae. He underwent an eight hour surgery during which doctors had to collapse his left lung. He’s home recovering now in Illinois, and doctors say his prognosis is good, according to the blog.

The UI closed the 52 ˝ foot climbing wall immediately after Bean’s fall, and it has not reopened.

The goal is to get it back open before students return from winter break on Jan. 22, Ostrander said. But, he said, it has taken time to do a thorough review of the policies and procedures and to inspect the wall and equipment.

“Once they clear everything and know the exact cause of what happened, then we anticipate that we will get the OK to open the wall,” he said.

If the UI is advised to make changes to its policies and procedures surrounding use of the wall, Ostrander said they will do that.

As far as lost revenue from the wall closure goes, Ostrander said, the UI probably has lost in the neighborhood of $5,000 from people who would have paid the daily walk-in fee and on special parties wanting to book the wall for an event. Recreation passes at the UI come with use of the climbing wall, but pass holders don’t have to pay extra for that amenity.

“The thing we are most concerned about, though, is that we have a number of student employees who work that wall who are without pay right now,” he said. “A lot of them were counting on that for Christmas money, so we are hoping to get this resolves pretty quick.”

The UI has about 20 employees dedicated to working the wall, including Bean, and Ostrander said the department has tried to find other ways to get them hours in the interim.

“But they are not getting their full complement of hours,” he said. “They are anxious for everything to be open.”

Bean’s fall was the first one in the UI’s 13 years of operating a wall, according to Ostrander. Before the current wall opened in the new wellness center in 2010, the Field House had a smaller version – it was 20 feet tall and had four to five routes.

The new wall, which offers 10 routes, has much higher traffic, Ostrander said.

Edward Nobles, assistant director of the Risk Management department, said he and his staff are taking the incident very seriously, which means they’re taking their time with the investigation.

“As you can imagine, it takes a lot of time to look at everything,” he said. “We want to do it right.” 

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