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Clipper City Rock Gym aims to reopen 'We are definitely rebuilding' after fire, owner promises


Plans are under way to rebuild a rock climbing gym that burned in the fatal Clipper Industrial Park fire last month.

"We are definitely rebuilding and reopening," said Jim Ellis, owner of the Clipper City Rock Gym. "The support is overwhelming considering we started with nothing. Climbers have lost a big part of their lives."

The rock gym, one of the East Coast's largest facilities, had more than 12,000 registered climbers nationwide on its list, Mr. Ellis said. "Children 7 to 8 years old came here, even 50 years old," he said.

Baltimore firefighter Eric Schaefer, 25, was killed and 17 firefighters were injured in the blaze at the former 19th-century iron foundry on Sept. 16 when a granite wall collapsed.

About 20 artists and the gym, tenants of the converted foundry, were displaced by the fire.

"We lost everything," Mr. Ellis said. "All the structure and climbing walls are gone."

It will cost about $200,000 to $250,000 to replace the rock climbing equipment, which was insured, Mr. Ellis said.

"We'll be OK on our own," he said when asked how he would pursue funding for the gym. He asked that any potential donors to the gym send money instead to the Eric Schaefer Memorial at Bayview Medical Center.

"For hard-core climbers" the rock gym, which had climbing walls made of textured plywood, "was the place to train," Mr. Ellis said. Those who used the gym learned teamwork, cooperation and self-reliance, he said. "It helped kids build self-esteem and self-acceptance."

Some rock-climbing enthusiasts have rallied around the ruined gym.

North Allegheny High School in Pittsburgh plans a Climb-A-Thon at the North Allegheny rock climbing gym. "Our kids want to send their condolences as a courtesy to the gym and Mr. Ellis," said Randy Hart, a former climbing coach who has accompanied youngsters on trips to the Clipper City gym.

"At least 50 of our kids have climbed there," Mr. Hart said. "We've lost a major part of the sport. It's a premiere facility used for a variety of competitions. It's only four hours away. Now we may have to go to Indiana," he said.

The high school climbers have offered to help reconstruct the gym, "a courtesy from one gym to another," he said.

No location for an alternate climbing site has been announced. "We are ready to start," said William Poloway, owner of the building. He said he hoped to accommodate some climbers temporarily in vacant buildings.

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