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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Martin Jensen climbs a 75-foot wall to replace light bulbs at Taylorsville Recreation Center, saving thousands of dollars.

TAYLORSVILLE — When the lights burned out at Salt Lake County's Taylorsville Fitness and Recreation Center, a light bulb switched on in Martin Jensen's head.

Jensen was taken aback by the $8,000 to $9,000 price tag a private contractor wanted to erect scaffolding so workers could replace the burned out light bulbs above the center's climbing wall. What, he wondered, if he and two friends who are experienced climbers roped up and performed the maintenance job themselves?

Jensen, marketing and public relations manager for Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation, acted on his impulse and texted his friends Jake McReaken and Nolan Porter. Both happily agreed to help. The two were hired by the county as temporary employees for $9.25 an hour to ensure they would have medical coverage in case something went awry. It didn't. Best of all, the maintenance work was completed for just under $100 in parts. Jensen also promised to buy cheeseburgers for his friends once they finished the job.

"The lights are back on and the county was able to save taxpayers money because of Martin's willingness to literally go up the wall," said Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon in his recent address to release his 2011 budget recommendations to the Salt Lake County Council.

Jensen said it had been about 10 years since he had climbed on a regular basis. So when they embarked on the task, it was a bit more daunting than Jensen had anticipated. The lights hang on a bar suspended from the ceiling, which is about 75 feet in the air.

"Yeah, I was afraid," said Jensen, who is 34 years old and jokes that his climbing gear fits a bit more snug these days. On Thursday, he and McReaken scaled the wall again to finish the job.

Once at the top of the wall, McReaken threaded supports through the metal rafters of the ceiling, inching along until he could reach the light fixtures and replace the halogen bulbs.

"I'll do anything for a cheeseburger," he cracked.

Taking a hands-on approach to change the bulbs was a common sense, economical solution to a problem, particularly as Corroon has encouraged all departments of county government to cut costs to better weather the recession. "That's what I'm doing," Jensen said. "I'm setting the bar for other county employees."

Porter, who replaced 12 of the 16 bulbs, said he agreed to help because he enjoys climbing for fun. "When Martin said this would save the county that much money, I said, 'What the heck,' "

The county plans to revamp the lighting in the recreation center so the lights can be lowered for future maintenance.

e-mail: marjorie@desnews.com