SCHOOLS CAN SERVE AS RECREATION FACILITIES TO BENEFIT THE COMMUNITY
The potential for using a common physical plant to provide for a community's education and recreation needs has been recognized for more than 100 years, when New York schools were opened in 1898 as evening recreation centers with leaders who were responsible for recreation programming. In 1940, the National Education Association urged school districts to make available, for leisure use, all suitable school facilities in the community outside of school hours and during vacation periods. This is perhaps the most important single step any community can take in coordinating its recreation and education programs. In planning ahead for community use of schools, the plant must be designed to meet the requirements of the new programs (p. 7).
Despite this long history of awareness, in most communities the recreation potential of school plants remains unfulfilled.
The Case for Joint Provision
Cooperation between a park and recreation agency and a school district may take the form of joint provision or joint use. These two terms differentiate the time at which cooperation is initiated.
Joint provision indicates cooperation was instigated at the outset before a facility was constructed. It implies that both agencies had input into its design in the planning stages, negotiated details of their respective roles in its management, funding its operations before it was constructed and contributed resources to its capital development.
Joint use refers to shared use by agencies that was negotiated after a facility was built, so it was not purposefully designed for use by both their clienteles. Most commonly it relates to the use of school facilities by park and recreation agencies.
Joint provision is a superior option to joint use because it affords the opportunity to provide appropriate and well designed facilities at the outset. For example, facilities designed for community recreation use could be grouped at one end of the school building, in a special wing or in a separate building. Such a functional arrangement limits access to other parts of the school building, making possible efficient control and economical operation and maintenance.
Figure 1 schematically illustrates the case for joint provision. The section marked "School priority" in Figure 1 shows that the potential use of recreation facilities built and exclusively used by a school district is likely to represent a very small proportion of their potential overall use.
Such facilities may be used for only 180 days each year for a limited number of hours each day. Community-built recreational facilities are likely to be used extensively on weekends, in the evenings and during school vacations. However, such facilities may experience much less intensive use on weekdays during the hours when people are at work or at school. Hence, the facility-use requirements of a school district and public agency are reasonably complementary.
[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
The calculations in Figure 2 suggest that if use of the school plant is limited to school hours, including an allowance for extra-curricular activities (from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily), then it will be used for only 18 percent of its potential capacity. In contrast, if the school is opened for community use during evenings, weekends and school vacations, then usage of the recreation elements in the plant could increase to 61 percent of potential capacity.
[Figure 2 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
These calculations show that community use of recreation facilities may triple the school plant's use if it is designed to facilitate community access. They suggest that in many communities, the real problem in terms of meeting recreation needs is simply one of harnessing the existing school resources and exploiting their full potential to meet the needs of the wider community.
Indeed, the recreational facility needs of many communities would be fully met if all the new American schools and school extensions in the next 10 years were designed with recreational components suitable for community use. This would require relatively modest injections of capital and would be much more cost efficient than building facilities independent of schools.
In many school districts, the standard specifications for schools, especially junior high and high schools, incorporate a recreation complex. In terms of capital costs, probably 80 percent of the investment for a community recreation center has been made already. In these cases, implementing joint provision means modifying and extending the standard school facilities to provide a full range of community facilities upgraded to meet adult specifications.
The economic case for a city and school district cooperating to provide recreational facilities is compelling. Providing these amenities is expensive and the same taxpayers pay the bill for both school and city facilities. Both school boards and city officials are under pressure from taxpayers to do more with less. Providing one set of facilities that both school and community constituencies can share is in essence using the same tax dollar twice. Certainly, it is more cost efficient than each agency building a separate set of recreation facilities for the exclusive use of its own clientele. Joint provision is likely to result in savings from reduced land acquisition costs, capital development costs and operating expenses.
In addition to economic efficiencies, there are other potential benefits from cooperation. A jointly provided recreation complex may serve as a social focus for the surrounding community. In some neighborhoods, the school buildings are the largest public space and it is grossly underutilized.
Intensive programming of the facilities outside school hours could help foster a sense of community in neighborhoods that have no such identity. Some people believe that vandalism could decrease at a school site because of the facility's more extensive use, and that there would be an increased integration in the life of the community and an enhanced sense of neighborhood associated with the school plant. The city's involvement in enhancing athletic field provision may also result in more aesthetically attractive school sites.
A major constraint on many children taking advantage of after-school programs offered by park and recreation agencies is the difficulty in getting from their school to a recreation center. With the growth of two-parent and single-parent working families, many children have no one available to transport them to these programs. This constraint is removed if public facilities are built on the school campus.
Finally, some people who do not have children in the school system see no reason why they should support school bond issues that will result in their paying higher taxes because they do not perceive that any direct benefits will accrue to them. Others are offended at the duplication of facilities stemming from lack of cooperation in facility provision. Positioning a school as a community center through joint provision offers school administrators a vehicle for expanding their school system's base of support.
Challenges With Implementing Joint Provision
There are a number of potential economic, morale and managerial costs that may accompany joint provision. Additional economic costs may be incurred when facilities are managed by two agencies or used by two clientele groups. These may be illustrated by an analogy. It is generally accepted that a vehicle in an agency motor pool used by multiple drivers has a considerably shorter life expectancy than a single-driver vehicle. Drivers take less care of motor pool vehicles because they are not held exclusively accountable for their condition. If a similar mind-set prevails in a jointly provided facility, then costs of operation will be higher.
To illustrate, if a car is driven 20,000 miles each year, it will cost more to maintain and will wear out sooner than if it is driven 10,000 miles each year. It will not be twice as expensive, but the savings per mile are likely to be 20 percent to 30 percent rather than 100 percent. If the facilities and equipment in a jointly provided recreation area are used so much more, then their repair, renovation and replacement will be required much more frequently.
Morale costs are incurred when individuals become frustrated by the actions of others that adversely affect them. For example, frustration may arise if teachers arrive in the morning to find that a lathe, pottery wheel, basketball net, tennis-serving machine or computer was broken the previous evening when the community used the facility.
Through necessity, many teachers have husbanded their resources carefully over the years with the result that they sometimes adopt a proprietary attitude toward the equipment. It is likely to require considerable diplomacy to remind such conscientious teachers that the damaged equipment is not their private possession--it belongs to the community whose members are entitled to use it--without taking away their obvious pride in maintaining it in first-class condition. Such incidents are likely to disrupt teaching plans, engender resentment and lower morale. Hence, resources must be available to replace or repair damaged equipment quickly and to care and maintain it.
Joint provision inherently implies compromises that, in some instances, may also cause resentment and adversely affect the morale of teachers and recreation personnel. Inevitably, there are occasions when both parties want to use the same facilities at the same time and it is not possible for them to do so.
From a community perspective the non-availability of facilities during the school day is likely to exclude some clientele groups, such as evening shift workers, lunch-time enthusiasts and homemakers, from using the facility at the time that is most convenient for them. Similarly, teachers and coaches may be frustrated by an inability to schedule varsity volleyball or basketball games at their convenience if they intrude into the community's time. In these situations, teachers and coaches may resent being restricted by community use, and recreation professionals may be frustrated by the school demands inhibiting full development of their programs.
There are additional managerial costs that reflect incremental increases in effort that managers need to make joint provision successful. The extra problems begin in the planning phase, which will be more protracted, because the needs and budget contributions of the school district and city have to be ascertained and synchronized. Input has to be solicited from both entities, and compromises have to be negotiated to resolve conflicting requirements.
Management of the construction program is more difficult because there is more than one client, so any cost overruns or design changes cause greater problems. For example, if a construction bid exceeds the budgeted amount, then the facility costs or budget increases needed have to be negotiated with two elected bodies, which are likely to bring different perspectives to the problem.
In joint-provision projects, managers and elected officials from both entities have to remember that although a school district and a city are funded by the same taxpayers, they do not necessarily have the same active constituencies or the same historic methods of solving problems. In short, they have different political realities.
From the outset, there should be a written agreement describing the respective roles of the two entities in a facility's operation, its management structure, its operational objectives, the budgetary responsibilities of each body in meeting operational costs, and a mechanism for resolving subsequent disputes.
Vision: The Key Ingredient
The public schools and park and recreation amenities belong to taxpayers. Hence, there is no excuse in any community for school facilities not to be planned and constructed so that they effectively serve the requirements not only of the school programs but also of the people in the neighborhood and community for recreational opportunities. Indeed, it is difficult to justify any community undertaking the planning or construction of new recreation facilities until it has been demonstrated that all present public facilities such as school plants are optimally used.
If an agency is considering an investment of $2 million in new recreation facilities, then instead of building a new pool, gymnasium or athletic fields, it should consider spending those funds on making relatively minor adaptations to existing school facilities. Investing the money on small adaptations, such as changing accommodation, making separate facility entrances, creating storage facilities, or upgrading playing surfaces, may result in many more opportunities for community use than may result from building a single new facility. There should be a careful survey of all existing school facilities to see if this would be a superior investment of capital funds.
A number of potential problems that may impede cooperation efforts have been identified. These include problems of planning and construction, additional maintenance funds needed for heavier usage, adverse impact on staff morale, fear of vandalism and theft of school equipment, conflicts in liability and maintenance responsibility, and conflicts in scheduling.
However, the major obstacle to cooperation is the parochial, departmentalized thinking and lack of broad vision of senior administrators and elected officials. It is easier for managers and elected officials to develop and operate facilities that are fully under their control without the added complexities brought by cooperative ventures.
Leon Younger, who was formerly director of the Indianapolis Park and Recreation Department (PARD) and is now a widely respected consultant, observed: "The difficult part of getting these partnerships going is there is a lot of hostility because everyone is looking out for their own best interests. It is hard to step back and look at what is best for the community. And what is best for the community, particularly in these times of very difficult funding, is to combine your efforts and work together."
There is a need for elected officials and senior administrators to broaden their vision so that it embraces the principle that facilities belong not to their agency but to the public at large. Despite the overwhelming logical case for joint provision, this will only occur when key decision-makers are sufficiently enlightened to pursue such a vision, or when they are forced to do so by public opinion.
Is it possible for education and recreation to join forces in creating a unified community--if only by location? John L. Crompton, CLP, says yes. "This is perhaps the most important single step any community can take in coordinating its recreation and education programs," he states in this issue's story, "Sharing Space." A professor in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M University, Crompton believes that sharing a central space for education and recreation will bring a social center to any community.…