Editor’s Note: The following story was written by Tom Fleischman for the Cornell Chronicle. It is republished with permission.
ITHACA, NY – Sometime during the two years of conversation and intense effort that led to the unveiling of the renovated Lindseth Climbing Center, it became apparent that there was one major hurdle: All renovation proposals required 14 more feet of space in front of the wall, on the east end of the Ramin Room.
“Seven renowned climbing wall companies (including Colorado-based Eldorado Climbing Walls, which ultimately won the contract) let us know that we couldn’t have the upgrade we wanted, that the area was too narrow,” said Marc Magnus-Sharpe, the Lindseth Director of Cornell Outdoor Education (COE). “We needed 14 more feet, or we could just go home.”
Magnus-Sharpe took that cold, hard truth to J. Andrew Noel, the Meakem*Smith Director of Athletics and Physical Education, expecting a difficult conversation regarding encroachment into the versatile and much-used space in Bartels Hall.
“He did not flinch – he said, ‘We are going to make it happen,’” Magnus-Sharpe said of Noel. “And those 14 feet are as important as all the dollars and all the headaches and efforts that have been put in on behalf of this wall.”
With several hundred people in attendance – including Jon and Virginia Lindseth, both members of Cornell’s Class of 1956 and the climbing wall’s benefactors – the Lindseth Climbing Center was unveiled in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 16 in Bartels Hall.
The upgrade, with a final price tag of $850,000, has resulted in 8,000 square feet of climbing area (up from 4,800), including a new bouldering wall and the Sklar Lead Wall. That specialized section is named for major benefactor Scott Sklar ’80, co-chair of the COE Advisory Board.
Sklar, an investor and adviser from Mill Valley, California, was in attendance along with fellow advisory board co-chair Ellen Tohn ’81, and numerous board members. The Lindseths sat alongside President Emeritus Frank H.T. Rhodes and his wife, Rosa.
The additional space allowed Cornell to build what Magnus-Sharpe says will be “one of the most respected university climbing center training areas in the country.” Noel said he was inspired to green-light the project by Chuck Feeney ’56 and his concept of the “big bets” one makes to affect big change.
“Feeney’s ideas made me think that, in the years I have left at Cornell, there are some major things that have to happen to put us in a better place,” Noel said. “And when Magnus and I and many others were thinking about the Lindseth Climbing Center and its expansion and remodeling, it was certainly in my view a ‘big bet’ that had to happen.”
Noel said he’s confident the upgrade “fundamentally changes and enriches the experience” for thousands of students, faculty and staff.
“This center enhances overall fitness, it improves core strength, it increases cardiovascular endurance, and on and on,” Noel said, “so a heartfelt thanks to everyone involved.”
Magnus-Sharpe noted that 396 donors – including all 80 student instructors in COE – contributed to the project. He thanked many people for their efforts, including Rhodes, president when the original wall was completed in 1990. He also credited the late President Elizabeth Garrett, who along with Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, “helped us make it through some pretty dynamic challenges.”
Jon Lindseth regaled the audience with tales of the many climbing expeditions he and his wife have taken, while also thanking donors and reminding the current crop of COE students that it was the contributions of those who came before them that made Cornell’s outdoor education program “the best in America.”
Sklar jokingly took that a giant leap further, calling COE “the finest outdoor programming in the known universe. We did a benchmarking study last year, and it may have been biased, but in fact we found out that it was the best.”
Sklar was a student instructor at Cornell and said the experience was “life-changing.” It is why he so readily invested in this project.
“We have professional staff who are fantastic, but the whole purpose of the thing is to get students teaching students,” he said. “That model is so powerful … that’s why I’m here giving back. That’s what changed my life.”
Following the speeches, there was a ceremonial ribbon-cutting near the entrance to the climbing area. Student instructors donned climbing gear and took to the wall as the rest of those in attendance gathered in front of them for a massive group photo, which will be displayed outside the entrance to the Ramin Room.