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The Daily Tar Heel

Climbing wall reopens nearly a year after accident

Almost a year after a UNC student fell and severely injured her legs and lower body, the indoor climbing walls at Rams Head Recreation Center and Fetze?r Hall will reopen after spring break.

Christopher Payne, the associate vice chancellor for student affairs, said that the facilities will reopen after recommendations from the UNC’s department of environment, health and safety have been implemented.

On April 21, Lizzie Smith, then a UNC student and Campus Recreation employee, fell off the Rams Head climbing wall. She was taken to the hospital after a security guard found her, and the walls were closed indefinitely.

The department completed an evaluation of the walls’ safety last year, and recommended an independent review, which concluded on Jan. 28.

The review consisted of a detailed inspection of the walls, safety equipment and the program’s staff training practices. The department also suggested enhancing employee training, including a review of procedures for staff roles and responsibilities when working at the climbing walls.

Other recommendations included a formal assessment of the safety of employment at the walls, and a review of climbing wall sign-in procedures as well as record-keeping practices.

“The reason for the recommendations was to assure the policies and procedures meet industry standards and best practice, based on the Climbing Wall Association’s industry practices,” said Mary Beth Koza, the department’s director.

A working group was formed after the accident, and has been responsible for overseeing the implementation of these recommendations. Payne, Koza and Marty Pomerantz, director of Campus Recreation, are members of the group.

A new climbing program coordinator was hired as well, and began work immediately following the evaluation.

Chance Van Noppen, who fills the new position, is directly responsible for implementing the recommendations.

“Staff training, certifications, classes and clinics provide our staff and patrons the climbing skills and knowledge they need to successfully teach and participate, respectively, in the climbing program at UNC,” he said.

Pomerantz said that above all, the new policy declaring that no one can be on the wall alone will be strictly enforced.

He added the cost of the changes is unknown as the program is accruing expenses.

“But you cannot place a cost on making sure that the wall and program are as safe as possible for students and employees,” he said.

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