School Security and Public Recreation

Courtesy of ESPN

by James C. Sherlock

Richmond Free Press (RFP) has editorialized about an issue of importance to all Virginians.

The editorial “Indoor basketball courts or outdoor courts? Why not both?” discusses the fact that the City of Richmond has late-stage plans for the construction of the new George Wythe High School that have secure entrances to indoor facilities and no plans for outdoor basketball courts.

RFP in its editorial makes a plea to the mayor and city council to let the adults and kids in the neighborhood use the high school as a community asset for recreational activities when the kids are not in school.

The RFP editorial board is spot-on.

It is or should be an issue all across the state.

Neighborhood basketball usually features pick a team, wait your turn, play-in and keep-the-court-until-you-lose rules. Small stuff like a 10-second rule for bringing the ball over half court (which seldom happens) are usually waived. If a player gets tired he won’t play much defense.

Mostly its fun. And competitive. Many neighborhoods have informal leagues. In some communities Parks and Rec runs them. In others, the players do. Same players most weekends. In tough neighborhoods, the courts are often neutral areas for disputes.

If the courts are lit, even better. In areas of high basketball demand, they should be. We are fortunate here in Virginia Beach to have excellent outdoor courts at a park along Shore Drive. The basketball played there is high level stuff.

Outdoor surfaces today can be long-lasting and very playable. And should be. No more asphalt that cracks and wrecks the playability of the court.

Security vs. recreation. The RFP editorial identifies the potential conflicts between school security and public recreation in school design.

I have to ask:

Do we have to trade one off for the other? Can kids and adults in an impoverished ward who would like to play basketball on the indoor and outdoor courts at the nearest school be accommodated? How about other sports across the state? The softball players? The soccer players in indoor and outdoor leagues? The American Legion teams?

As the RFP editorial illustrates, far better than I could, we should not simply shut off community use of school facilities in a search for school security. School and public safety officials must build both in as a cost of serving the public.

Naysayers will bring up legal tort liability; and cleanup costs; and off-hours security costs.

Well, it is the peoples’ liability and the peoples’ costs. As the editorial wrote of the new high school:

A wise choice is to install both indoor and outdoor basketball courts.

An indoor court will allow student athletes to practice and perfect their games in a state-of-the art facility with controlled climate settings, proper flooring, lighting and seating.

Installing an outdoor basketball court (or courts— yes, plural), in addition to the aforementioned advantages, informs the community that, despite the actual or perceived behaviors of some who may or may not live in the Wythe school district, there is trust.

That trust will be accompanied by accountability, and THEY — as gatekeepers, residents, staff, students and taxpayers — must ensure that trash, vandalism and other misguided acts do not destroy what has taken so long to build.

Get the churches involved. The non-profits. Local businesses.

Ask the police if they would rather have kids in tough neighborhoods playing basketball outdoors under the lights or hanging out looking for something else to do.

What to do. Leaders and planners must account for public use in the hours when school is not open in every security measure taken in new builds or renovations of existing schools. Extended use of school facilities is a way to leverage public investments through public enjoyment of public spaces.

We are spending enormous amounts of public money for those facilities. The new George Wythe High School will cost north of $140 million. Let communities be communities and use them as much as possible.

Parks and Recreation, not the schools, should shoulder the responsibilities.

If we can’t do that, who are we?


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Comments

37 responses to “School Security and Public Recreation”

  1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “Security vs. recreation”

    Think of it as a cost foisted on us by the 2nd… alas…

  2. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    I once had a principal of a struggling school in Richmond tell me he spent more time than he wished outside picking up used condoms, bear cans, liqueur bottles, hypodermic needles, and Burger King trash. If he didn’t, school board members were calling him. His school is also the site of a city recreation inside and outside area. Also, when the swimming pool was open, it was worse. Maybe he needed more time in the classroom and less time doing clean up. What you are asking isn’t impossible, but it is often left with the principal to deal with.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I notice that Petersburg Parks and Rec runs summer programs at Petersburg H.S., so it is not a foreign concept there, Kathleen. See https://www.petersburgva.gov/532/Youth-ProgramsSummer-Programs

    2. LarrytheG Avatar
      LarrytheG

      “BEAR” cans? 😉

      Principals seem to be a lot like Captains of Ships!

    3. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      That is a fatal flaw. The programs need to be fully funded by Parks and Recreation.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar
        LarrytheG

        A Conservative advocating for tax increases . LORD. LORD!

  3. Wait, what? $140 million to build a new high school?

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      I would not comment on that if you tortured me.

    2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      That is what it costs these days. The new high school that Halifax County is going forward with has a plan with a “target” cost of $110 million. Construction costs are higher in the Richmond area.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar
        LarrytheG

        last one in Spotsylvania about 10 years ago was 100 million. Conservatives!! what can you do with them? Out of touch !

    3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      Public bling Mr. Bacon. I taught in an alternative high school, Walker-Grant, which was on old segregated high school built in 1920, and I can tell you we produced results that would shame any 140 million dollar school. It is the leadership and quality of instruction that makes a school, not school board funded bling.

  4. Matt Hurt Avatar
    Matt Hurt

    I get the argument about schools being public, but you have to take into consideration what purpose you want schools to fulfill. Organizations can do one thing well or more things less well. If you want schools to provide parks and rec services, then it is very likely that the instructional program will suffer. Schools are already required to be so many things, and adding one more responsibility on their plate will certainly not improve student outcomes. While it seems simply to allow folks to use the facilities, there’s a lot more that goes along with it.

    1. Kathleen Smith Avatar
      Kathleen Smith

      My point exactly. If they need a rec site, build one.

      1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        Cost inefficient solution as opposed to using massive public structures that are used only 180 days a year and then sometimes only during the day. Some jurisdictions don’t have the money to build both schools and rec centers. Read the RFP editorial. They understand the issue.

        1. Matt Hurt Avatar
          Matt Hurt

          You have to pick one to get the desired results. Either a school is a place where students learn or a place for the public to recreate. It can’t do both equally well.

          1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            For the fifth time, I do not recommend the school operate the rec programs.

          2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
            James C. Sherlock

            See my note to Kathleen above.

      2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        I just realized thanks to Dick that you and Matt, both of whom come from school systems, started reading my post with the ironclad assumption – certainty really – that schools have to run anything that happens on school property 24/7/365.

        I started with the assumption that Parks and Rec can and should run recreation programs at the schools when they are not in use by the school system. That has been my experience everywhere in Virginia I have lived.

        As I pointed out, it is true today in Petersburg. Different experiences brought different starting points.

        I started writing this column in support of an editorial in the RFP.

        I still support the idea, but I underestimated the pettiness of the adults governing the city and its schools. It won’t happen again. From what Dick tells me, the schools and Parks and Rec are not on speaking terms. Aaargh.

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Fourth question on this, same response. Parks and Rec should pick up the costs, including security, for out-of-school use of school facilities for recreation. It is a matter of leveraging massive public investments.

      You may tell me that the poorest rural school divisions may not have Parks and Rec departments to fall back on. Regardless the funding mechanism, it should be done if demand is there.

      BTW, the point obviously was not clear enough in the original article, so I have modified it to re-emphasize it at the end.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar
        LarrytheG

        I think you’ll find that the ancillary facilities in schools – like bathrooms and equipment rooms are not physically separated from the main school proper.

        School and Park & Rec are not currently configured to “share”.

        Spotsylvania DID do something you might like. They did a PPP on one site that had co-located elementary school and YMCA – and both of them adjacent to a large multi-field Parks & Rec site.

        Other schools could do such a thing when new schools are built. Configure them to co-locate the school and parks&rec facilities. – win – win.

    3. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      See my reply to Kathleen below. It is for you as well.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar
    LarrytheG

    Out here is suburb-land, the signs on school property say something like ” No Trespassing , school sanctioned activities only”.

    so not just Richmond.

    heard talk of trash, vandalism, altercations between individual and groups, etc….

    You’d think people could behave, eh?

    Nope.

    Now the county does have Park & Rec and they DO provide all kinds of facilities from pickleball to soft/hard ball, basketball, soccer, etc – trash pickup, security, parking, and deputies.

    but the schools, NADA

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Parks and Rec should pick up the costs for out-of-school use of school properties for public recreation. It is a matter of leveraging huge investments during their hours of non-use.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar
        LarrytheG

        It’s a nice theory. Sorta like trying to get the armed forces to go “joint”! 😉

        1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          Except, Larry, that the operational armed forces are joint. Only the service headquarters fighting for budget are not.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar
            LarrytheG

            they are NOW and it took a tremendous effort from the top to get it to happen and there are STILL silos.

  6. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    Also, at my little elementary school with a basketball court outside that was used often, I had to write on the chalkboard in between the bullet holes. They would fix the windows, but not the chalkboard. On Monday morning I would open the classroom door and hope the windows were intact.

    At times, letting the K children out to play inside a high fenced area required a precheck or clean up by the teacher for items that shouldn’t have been there.

    However, we did have a few parents who would willingly clean up the basketball area and front of the school if we asked nicely and provided gloves.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      As I responsed to Larry, Parks and Rec should pick up the costs, including security, for out-of-school use of school facilities for recreation. It can’t be done without security. It is a matter of leveraging massive public investments.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar
        LarrytheG

        This is one of those things where if you’re gonna have alternative/voucher/non-public schools, you might be better off with parks and rec owned/operated facilities.

        Sports programs, in general, seem to be not present or present but not as robust in the competitors to public schools.

  7. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Here is a need that the churches and religious leaders of Richmond could fill. I remember my grandparents church in South Carolina had an awesome gym. It even had a parquet floor just like the Boston Garden. It was open to the public 4 hours a day and it turned a number of participants towards the church. The preacher was awesome. He could dunk like the Doctor, pass like Larry, and shoot like the Pistol. The most tender and heartfelt sermons I have ever heard came from this man.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar
      LarrytheG

      yes, without question. Churches and and should be community centers. If they can do schools, heck, why not other community-oriented needs?

  8. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    It looks like I am the only one agreeing with you.

    I thought it was short-sighted of the architects not to have included outdoors basketball courts. It turns out that they were not that short-sighted.

    The rendering that was made public around the first of May shows outdoors basketball courts (two full courts or four half courts). Unless it was changed and the amended rendering is not available online, that is what was the subject of the public hearing. The rendering showing the basketball courts is at the very end of this presentation by Superintendent Kamras:

    https://go.boarddocs.com/vsba/richmond/Board.nsf/files/CDYQM869EEC7/$file/Wythe%20Design%20Contract%20for%205-2-22%20Board%20Meeting.pdf

    The Richmond Free Press editorial seems to have been in response to the comments of the head football coach who opposed having outdoors basketball courts. His comment is somewhat confusing. According to the RFP article, “He also asked about including a track and field area, not currently in the rendering.” Clearly, there is a track in the rendering. I am assuming that the coach did not want the football field to be used for track and field activities.

    Your proposal to have Parks and Rec responsible for maintaining the courts makes sense. However, politics mitigate against logic. The school and the outdoor facilities are the responsibility of the School Board. Parks and Rec folks work for the city administration (Mayor and City Council). There is a great deal of distrust between the two spheres. I would not be surprised if the school system opposed the use of city maintenance workers on its school property.

    One solution to the trash and damage problem would be for the school administration to make it crystal clear to the community that abuse of the basketball court area would result in the backboards being taken down. Following up on that threat should convince the users of the area to police themselves.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Good comment. I did not know about the ill will between the School division and Parks & Rec. But it does not surprise me. Sounds like something adults could fix. So perhaps, in Richmond, the kids are out of luck.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        The ill will is not between the school division and Parks and Rec specifically, but between the school division and city administration generally.

        1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
          James Wyatt Whitehead

          Money. Who is going to pay for what?

        2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
          James C. Sherlock

          I understood that much. Budgets and union negotiations and whatever. I did not know it filtered down this low. As I wrote, I seldom assume the leadership in Richmond with acting in the public interest. It won’t happen again.

  9. But let’s keep those libraries closed.

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