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Shared Use of School Facilities with Community Organizations and Physical Activity Program Participation: A Cost-Benefit Assessment
Presentation at the 2013 Active Living Research Annual Conference.
Background and Purpose
Partnerships between schools and other community organizations that include shared use of recreation facilities can increase access to physical activity opportunities and represent a promising childhood obesity prevention strategy (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2006). Even the most underserved neighborhoods may have schools and other facilities that are under used for recreation (Spengler, Connaughton, & Maddock, 2011). Meanwhile, local agencies or community groups seeking to use public school buildings and grounds for community based programs often find it difficult to access these spaces during out of school hours (Filardo et al., 2010). Often cited barriers to shared use of school facilities include: legal, maintenance, operations, security, and scheduling challenges (Spengler et al., 2011). Although liability associated with shared use of schools is the most common barrier, perceived cost of additional facility use has emerged as an equally important reason for restricting access (Spengler, 2012).
Physical activity opportunities associated with shared use of facilities weighed against their associated costs have yet to be determined. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of shared use of school physical activity facilities during non-school hours on the amount and type of physical activity programs offered at schools and the cost of operating school facilities.
All public middle schools (N=30) in a southeastern United States school district were selected for the study. Middle schools were chosen because studies show that participation in youth sport and physical activity declines significantly during this period and middle school facilities are more conducive than elementary schools to shared use. Afterschool physical activity programs were assessed using the Structured Physical Activity Survey (SPAS) (Powers et al., 2002). SPAS identifies the frequency, duration, and type of structured afterschool physical activity programs offered at a school and the number of male and female participants in each program. Facility operating costs for each school were derived from financial data provided by the school district. Data were collected at four two-week periods over 12 months from 2009-2010 to capture seasonal changes in program offerings. The shared use of school physical activity facilities was categorized by the amount or level of community use (i.e., number of afterschool physical activity programs operated by community organizations on school facilities and the number of participants), ranging from low (1) to high (3) shared use.
Afterschool physical activity programs at school facilities included a mean of 1.42 programs (SD = .25) with 32.5 participants (SD = 12.3) administered by schools and .35 programs (SD = .26) with 17.2 participants (SD = 20.9) administered by community (non-school) agencies. The mean annual operating cost for each sampled school was $1.14 per square foot of building space (SD = $.44) or $192 per enrolled student (SD = $87). Minutes of afterschool program physical activity was positively correlated with level of shared use. Kruskal-Wallis tests with post hoc Mann-Whitney U comparisons indicated that minutes in physical activity were significantly and positively associated with shared use policy for the overall student population, H(3) = 17.64, p < .001, for girls, H(3) = 18.02, p < .001, and for boys, H(3) = 10.71, p = .005. A more consistent positive association was observed between shared use categories and increased participation in girls’ programs than in boys’ programs. Kendall’s t (non-parametric) correlations indicated no significant relationship between shared use of school facilities for community-sponsored physical activity programs and school operating costs per square foot (t = 0.105, p = .436) and school operating costs per enrolled student (t = -0.157,
Consistent with previous research, an increase in shared use of school facilities was associated with increased afterschool physical activity programs operated on school facilities (Durant et al., 2009; Farley et al., 2008) and increases in the number of children participating in physical activity programs. However, despite operating more programs and having more children use school facilities after hours, schools did not incur additional facility operating costs.School administrators often express concern about incurring additional operating and maintenance costs associated with more facility use by non-school sponsored programs (Spengler et al., 2011). Our results, however, suggest many of the perceived cost increases are unrealized. It appears schools are not organized or operated to be sensitive to the amount or intensity of facility use. Heat and air conditioning are set at a constant level, athletic fields are maintained, and custodial labor is incurred throughout the year regardless of whether the school opens its facilities for afterschool shared use or prohibits afterschool use.Results represent new knowledge about the potential of shared use of school facilities as an environmental and policy intervention to increase community based physical activity. Partnerships between schools and other community agencies to share facilities and create new or expanded opportunities for afterschool physical activity programs are a promising health promotion strategy.
Support / Funding Source
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation - Active Living Research Grant - Round 9