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Guidelines for Block U wraps updated to reflect branding, prevent damage

The guidelines for wrapping a campus landmark featured in dozens of student social media posts, messages of belonging and patriotism, and graduation rites of passage will change after this month.

For the past three years, the big red Block U just east of the University of Utah Campus Store has been periodically wrapped to recognize and celebrate groups on campus. 

Unfortunately, the practice of wrapping the large metal letter in vinyl has ended up damaging the paint surface of the Block U—with repair costs that can vary from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the work needed. At the same time, university branding guidelines for the Block U have changed, discouraging filling the letter with images.

As a result, Block U wraps will no longer be permitted after the end of this academic year.  

Instead, university leaders are exploring a different way for campus groups and organizations to celebrate significant dates and recognition months. 

“We know that having communal landmarks on campus and the ritual associated with them creates a unique sense of place for University of Utah students and is essential to creating college town magic,” said Andrea Thomas, chief experience officer at the U. “Though it’s necessary to change this practice, we are committed to finding alternatives to wrapping the Block U.”

Originally developed as a way for students to celebrate events or groups on campus, the campus Block U wrapping also was meant to keep students safely on campus—rather than climbing the Block U above Federal Heights neighborhoods to light or paint it.

The Block U was first wrapped in April 2021 for Pride Week. Over the past three years, the structure has been wrapped a total of seven times—four times for Pride Week, twice for Veterans Day, and once to promote the Basic Needs Collective. Each wrap costs $3,500 for the vinyl printing and installation and removal. Painting and repairs to the Block U are an additional cost, as needed. For one of the most recent wraps, repairing the metal structure and touching up the automotive paint cost $615, which was billed to the group that requested the wrap.

Along with being costly, the vinyl wraps are finicky. They can only be successfully installed if the temperature is between 45 and 80 degrees, significantly limiting the times of year when the U can be wrapped. Between the complicated installation logistics and the high cost, wrapping the Block U on campus has been out of reach for many groups and organizations. 

Though a new option for campus recognitions is yet to be determined, the goal is to create something that more campus groups will be able to take advantage of. 

“Traditions are critical to creating points of connection within our campus community,” said Bryan Hubain, associate vice president for student development and inclusion. “At the University of Utah, we remain committed to representation and building a community where students, faculty, and staff belong.”

For example, Hubain said, the columns running along the Hall of Flags in the Student Union Building will continue to be lit every Pride Week.

Once the final wrap is taken off the Block U, the structure will get a full sanding and repainting. Moving forward, the Union will continue maintaining the structure with annual touch-ups and upkeep to the surrounding area.