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As D.C. residents seek safe and clean spaces to be active, they should be able to use the gymnasiums, courts, and outside recreational facilities at their neighborhood public schools. The District needs to ensure a process is in place to encourage schools to open these facilities to the community.
Despite the existence of shared use agreements for public school facilities in the District, community groups reported barriers to frequent and robust use of recreational facilities in neighborhoods. Based on these responses, the following may be next steps for D.C. leaders to explore ─
IMPROVE THE EFFECTIVENESS AND EFFICIENCY of the process for seeking approval for shared use by: Identifying an agency that oversees the agreements; Improving transparency of the process; and Centralizing applications and approvals.
CONVENE A TASK FORCE with representatives of the community: principals from public and public charter schools, local government agencies, recreational organizations, and public health professionals.
CREATE A CENTRAL CLEARINGHOUSE where schools could search for programming they would like to bring to their community, and groups could see what locations and times are available.
It would be beneficial to have a community advisory council for schools to facilitate partnership between schools and the community. For example, holding regular [town hall] meetings would be good. There has to be a mandate from above saying we want schools to increase collaboration with the community.
Have an easier, more defined person at these facilities that can serve as the first person of contact for the space. This clearly defined person should be someone who you can reach and who you can rent through. In the current system, it varies from school to school who serves in this role, if anyone.
... At a minimum, there should be a web-based system where you can log on and request the space. (DC Parks and Rec, for example, has a minimum web based system where you can log on and request space). There is a permitting window – for example between January 1 and 21 –there is a window where you can request to use the space. The people who do that onthe school level (DCPS) don’t have anything. It’s very paper based and verycumbersome to the point where it just creates more barriers.
Community groups offer suggestions on ways to increase their communities’ use of school recreation areas:
CREATE A SYSTEM TO MONITOR the effectiveness and cost of improved shared use policies and the impact on the community.
ESTABLISH A SHARED USE FUND that would: Assist both schools and community groups in high-risk neighborhoods to cover maintenance and security costs, and extend liability coverage to non-profit community groups lacking the funds for insurance.
DELIVER ASSISTANCE to local schools and to community groups through a shared use toolkit and publicly accessible website.
Our newest report, developed with the help the shared use working group comprised of DC community members and representatives from a number of DC agencies, dives into the challenges community-based organizations face when trying to utilize school facilities to provide physical activity. The report makes six specific recommendations to solve the issues felt by these groups and help move the city forward to being a healthier metropolis.