New Study Shows Kentucky Schools and Community Agencies often Collaborate to Share Facilities

Jeffersontown, KY Schools across Kentucky have opened their facilities to their communities during non-school hours for many years, allowing people of all ages to use their gymnasiums, tracks, cafeterias, and athletic fields for recreation. This practice, known as “shared-use,” not only saves cost, it deepens school and community connections and expands opportunities for physical activity. According to a new study,  Sharing School Facilities: How Collaboration Can Increase Physical Activity in Communities,by Kentucky Youth Advocates and the Kentucky Cancer Consortium, 74 percent of responding principals allow some of their school facilities to be used by community members.

Kentucky Youth Advocates surveyed school principals, receiving 197 survey responses representing 90 school districts, or 51.7 percent of all districts, from diverse geographic regions of the state. Prior to this project, no collective information was known about if and how Kentucky schools share their facilities with community agencies and members. Now, that information is available along with recommended steps to help increase the sharing of school facilities.

“Everyone needs safe and accessible places to exercise in their communities in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Children with access to recreational facilities close to home have shown to be more physically active and have lower obesity rates than those without access,” said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.

Responding principals noted numerous benefits of sharing school facilities such as improved community relationships and opportunities for physical activity. And, many principals reported few, if any problems resulting from sharing their facilities.

Bullitt County Public School District has had formal agreements with the YMCA and the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball league to share school facilities during non-school hours for a number of years. Principal Denise Allen, of Mount Washington Middle School, believes that sharing school facilities is of upmost importance to the community. Community members see the school gym as “their gym” and the school as a “community school.” With a shortage of gyms available in the community, sharing school facilities with community agencies is an excellent example of sharing and utilizing existing resources in a community.

Additionally, Clear Creek Elementary in Shelby County is used by Clear Creek Parks for volleyball and basketball leagues. Principal Karen Downs of Clear Creek Elementary indicated that no problems have resulted from collaborating with these agencies and recognized that shared-use is a great benefit to the community. Principal Downs also indicated that the Shelby County School District is very supportive of the agreements and encourages cooperation with Clear Creek Parks.

While a number of principals like Allen and Downs shared positive experiences with shared-use, some school principals reported being fearful that they would be held responsible if someone gets injured while on school property during non-school hours. But, the recent passage of Senate Bill 110 sponsored by Senator Katie Stine by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2012 will encourage more schools to keep their facilities open after hours with less fear of liability. Senate Bill 110 extends the same immunities schools have during the school day to after hours, making liability protections clear.

“Kentucky’s leaders came together around SB 110 this year, which was a win for kids and local communities. Many education leaders have already discovered the power of shared us. But we need that kind of access for all kids and families. Shared-use is a common sense partnership that every schoolhouse should embrace,” added Brooks.

To see additional results from the survey or more detailed recommendations on implementing shared-use agreements in your area, see the study,  Sharing School Facilities: How Collaboration Can Increase  Physical Activity in Communities, here.