If only the school were open after hours, it could be used as a place to play and for people in the community to be active. - That is what I always think when I see the "No trespassing".
Most of us would agree that it is important to have safe places to play, participate in sports, and exercise in our communities. But sometimes it is hard to find those places, or they are just too far away. How can you organize a team sport with no places to play?
But maybe there is a school close to home, and with fields on which a team could play. The school might also have some really nice playgrounds. But what if there is a big fence surrounding the fields and playgrounds with a locked gate and a NO TRESPASSING sign. If only the school were open after hours, it could be used as a place to play and for people in the community to be active.
“Shared Use” and “Joint Use” are terms often used to describe the sharing of school facilities with organized groups and neighborhood children. There are a lot of individuals and groups that are interested in shared use. The reason is likely that given the problem of childhood obesity, and the importance of being physically active, people recognize that we need more good places to play and be active.
There are many people who are working on shared use. Policy-makers, for example, have been busy in many states –Tennessee, Oklahoma, Minnesota, to name of few - working on shared use/joint use legislation to help encourage sharing school recreational facilities in communities across the nation. Advocates have been working with schools and policy-makers to help accomplish these and other goals to increase the number of schools that share their recreational facilities with the community.
School and community leaders have also been busy implementing shared use policies and entering into contracts that will help them determine their rights and responsibilities when sharing recreational facilities and programs.
Some of the common concerns when making decisions on sharing school recreational facilities include liability, insurance, safety, cost of maintenance and staff. However, researchers are conducting studies to better understand these concerns and see how well sharing facilities helps to get people active.
A new ALR research brief summarizes the research on community access to school sport and recreation facilities outside of school hours, as well as the challenges commonly associated with the shared use of recreational facilities. Some key findings include:
- Children who have access to existing and renovated school recreational facilities outside of regular school hours are more likely to be active.
- Progress toward opening school facilities for recreational use outside of school hours is slow and some evidence suggests that lower-income communities are less likely than higher-income communities to offer shared use of school facilities.
- The Institute of Medicine recommends that local governments "collaborate with school districts and other organizations to establish joint use of facilities agreements allowing playing fields, playgrounds, and recreation centers to be used by community residents when schools are closed; and if necessary, adopt regulatory and legislative policies to address liability issues that might block implementation."
Policy-makers, advocates, researchers, and community and school leaders all have important questions about shared use and need research that can help guide their decisions and actions. The PreventObesity.net webinar series on shared use, on which I had the opportunity to participate, is a great forum for sharing information and resources to help answer these questions. There are important lessons and success stories to share on this issue, and a lot of work that still needs to be done. For more information, check out the resources on shared use on the ALR website.
John O. Spengler, JD, PhD
University of Florida
About the author
John O. Spengler is Associate Professor in the College of Health and Human Performance at University of Florida. More information on Dr. Spengler's Active Living Research grants can be found here.