The August 2009 issue of Parks and Recreation features National Policy & Legal Analysis Network’s (now called ChangeLab Solutions) Joint-Use Agreement resources in an article about using school recreational facilities as community facilities. Mississippi is one of the states that have now bought in and is now on the path to discovering and implementing healthy alternatives for its citizens. Joint-Use Agreements (JUAs) have become a vital part and serve as a backdrop for many of the state’s communities as more agencies, organizations and individuals are taking an active role in increasing the capacity of this phenomenon in communities. Moreover, it is a proven fact that the physical environment itself determines, to a large degree, whether we will be healthy.
Many communities lack safe, adequate places for children to play, and although they have a variety of recreational facilities, many school districts close their property to the public after hours because of concerns of vandalism, maintenance and liability. Too often, kids find the gate to their school’s blacktop or basketball court locked after school hours, locking them out of opportunities to be active. Closing off recreational facilities after school leaves many children and families struggling to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines. They may live in an area without a nearby park or be unable to afford exercise equipment or a membership to the local gym. Joint-use agreements can fix these problems. The use of these agreements makes physical activity easier by providing kids and adults alike with safe, conveniently located and inviting places to exercise and play. Besides making sense from a health perspective, joint-use agreements make sense financially because they build upon existing assets from the community. Sharing existing space is cheaper and more efficient than duplicating the same facilities in other parts of the community.
Previously there was push back from schools and school districts because understandably, there was always the burden of liability. This is no longer a concern in Mississippi as legislation has made JUAs more attractive. Schools and school districts are no longer liable for users of the facilities. Liability is now solely on the user. However, the work continues with this policy, as we would love to see language that says that our school districts are “required” to participate in JUAs rather than they “can” participate in JUAs. This would be a significant milestone in reversing trends of obesity in the state.
The Role of Joint Use Agreements in the Community