Joint-Use Agreements: An Interview with Dr. John Spengler

Carol PulleyAfter growing up playing on the school playground, I was dismayed to start seeing fences and locked gates at schools. The whole community feeling changed to a prison atmosphere, but to keep people out. John O. Spengler, JD, PhD a researcher at the University of Florida in the College of Health and Human Performance, and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Active Living Research grantee identified current conditions and provides guidance on addressing liability in an effort to promote community use of school property.    

Dr. Spengler has been fortunate to receive outstanding support in research on shared use. As an American Heart Association volunteer, he had the opportunity to inform policy and advocacy efforts that seek to promote shared use. Joint-use, also called shared use, is a term that is used to describe the sharing of school facilities with groups or agencies within communities, or schools opening their gates to let children, for example, play on the school playground. Many people and groups are contributing to the momentum behind shared use. The Safe Routes Partnership, for instance, is playing a key role in this movement. As we move forward, it is important to continue to build the evidence around joint-use.

A new research brief from Active Living Research, Promoting Physical Activity through Shared Use of School and Community Recreational Resources, summarizes research on community access to school sport and recreation facilities outside of school hours, as well as studies that examine the joint use of school facilities and programs with other community groups or agencies. It also provides information for policy-makers at the state and local level. Key findings and recommendations in the brief include the following:

  • Children who have access to existing and renovated school recreational facilities outside of regular school hours are more likely to be active.
  • Progress toward opening school facilities for recreational use outside of school hours is slow and some evidence suggests that lower-income communities are less likely than higher-income communities to offer shared use of school facilities.
  • Surveys of school administrators in lower-income communities or communities of color cite issues such as liability, staffing, maintenance and cost as barriers to opening schools for recreational use outside of school hours
  • The Institute of Medicine recommends that local governments "collaborate with school districts and other organizations to establish joint-use of facilities agreements allowing playing fields, playgrounds, and recreation centers to be used by community residents when schools are closed; and if necessary, adopt regulatory and legislative policies to address liability issues that might block implementation." 
  • Schools, community groups and local governments can enter into joint-use agreements to address the perceived barriers to sharing recreational facilities and programs.

Joint-use is one of the state network projects' three policy priorities. Follow my blog as we talk more about advancing joint-use in Florida.