Allowing community access to school gyms during holidays and vacation breaks may pose challenges for some Manitoba divisions.
Christmas holidays and spring break are often ideal times for custodial staff to complete thorough cleaning tasks, according to Park West School Division Supt. Tim Mendel.
“No one is in there so you can do floors and all that kind of stuff,” Mendel said. “So logistically that might be a problem, but … I think there are ways to locally work around that.”
The other issue is that there will be a cost associated with having staff available to open and lock the doors on holidays.
“That’s a call-in of three hours, and we stress that to our user groups that they are responsible for that,” said Kathy Siatecki, secretary-treasurer with Turtle Mountain School Division. “Or if the custodians have to clean up after an event, that would be a charge as well.”
Education Minister Nancy Allan announced this week that school divisions have until Jan. 1, 2013 to come into compliance with the Community Use of Schools Act.
The province has been working since the days of Allan's predecessor, Peter Bjornson, to develop uniform policies that would allow community access after hours and during holidays, to school gyms, libraries and other facilities at a break-even cost.
“We believe schools are paid for by public funds — we want them to be available for community use, when students aren’t using them,” Allan said.
She said schools are allowed to recover all costs from users, such as the cost of having a custodian present when a school is not normally open, and to clean up afterwards, but they can’t make money from the rentals.
Mendel is supportive of the legislation and said community groups have already been taking advantage of gym space in Park West School Division.
“I think we would certainly support schools being used to the greatest extent possible within the communities,” Mendel said. “They’re empty for large parts of the day, so if the community can use it, I don’t think there’s a problem.”
Turtle Mountain School Division has also made its schools available for community use for several years, and already has a facility permit policy in place.
Siatecki said during breaks, user groups must fill out a facility permit 30 days in advance.
“I need to confer with my custodians to see if they have any major custodial work that needs to be done,” she said. “There’s very few times during the course of the year that they can wax the gym, now it’s even further reduced.”
Meanwhile, Brandon School Division is on track to have full implementation by Jan. 1.
“It’s really nothing new,” board chair Mark Sefton said. “It’s something that Brandon has been doing for years with a variety of different groups.”
Sefton said the provincial legislation is just “fine-tuning” the process.
“It’s not a huge departure from where we’ve been for a long time, this is just formalizing the requirements,” Sefton said. “I think in many ways Brandon School Division is a little bit ahead there.”
BSD has been working with the City of Brandon on this idea for the past few years and recently signed a joint-use agreement.
Sefton said the division is in discussions with Canadian Union of Public Employees personnel, “to make sure this is as smooth and seamless for them as it possibly can be.”
“The custodian who has to be in the building is then being paid double time or time and a half as the case may be,” Sefton said. “So those are additional costs that come down.”
Sefton said the gymnasiums in the kindergarten-to-Grade 8 schools will be available for use most frequently, as high school gyms are often booked solid with sporting events.
with files from Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 28, 2012