Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gyms face scheduling crunch

Either empty or booked up at schools, report says

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Manitoba's school gyms are packed virtually every minute that they're available for community use -- yet also all too often sit closed, dark and empty, despite a health crisis of sedentary kids and childhood obesity.

A major new study has urged that the Doer government conduct a provincewide survey of the use of school gyms, review the fees that school divisions charge and create a system of joint-use agreements for schools, municipalities and community groups to make the greatest possible use of school gyms.

"There appears to be a willingness to allow community use of schools. It requires co-ordination," said Rick Lambert, director of community development for Sport Manitoba and a member of the advisory committee on joint use of school and community facilities.

"Some of it will come down to cost," said Lambert.

The advisory committee found that school gyms are not available unless there is a custodian present -- so some schools close as early as 5:30 p.m., and most by 10 p.m. at the latest, and anyone wanting to use a gym on weekends usually has to pay to bring in a custodian at $30 an hour or more.

The schools themselves are the heaviest after-school gym users -- many high schools do not even make their gyms available to the community because students use them deep into the evening.

Anecdotally, education officials say, community time is usually gobbled up largely by the city's recreation programs and by organized minor sports. There's relatively little of anyone's holding programs in which kids who are not already physically active can just drop in and get some exercise.

Louis Riel School Division director of facilities Peter Kolba said that the division's 32 elementary and middle schools have about 17,000 hours of community gym time from 6 to 10 p.m. annually from Monday through Friday.

"How many hours are available? None," said Kolba.

LRSD issues 2,000 permits each year to community users, and this year every minute is booked, he said.

The cost to users for those 17,000 hours?

Not a single penny.

"The trustees determined many, many years ago, it was always a philosophy that the buildings needed to be made available to the public, and preferably at no cost," Kolba said. "We didn't see any advantage to any revenue -- it's a deterrent."

Pembina Trails School Division has the same belief, said superintendent Lawrence Lussier.

"We offer our spaces free of charge as long as a custodian is on duty. If not, the fees cover the cost of custodial labour. No revenue is generated through this initiative," said Lussier.

Winnipeg School Division has some empty gym slots in inner-city and North End elementary schools, though not many, said WSD school board chairman John Orlikow.

The province's largest division charges $20 for a gym permit covering the entire school year if at least 90 per cent of the users live within the division. Otherwise, the charge is $29 an hour.

"We've got to work at expanding the use," said Orlikow. "We can't just do this on our own -- we need help from the other levels of government. Someone has to pay."

That's the catch.

Keith Thomas, risk manager of the Manitoba Association of School Trustees, said that he gets urged to let schools simply give someone the keys, to not require insurance, and to trust users not to cause any mess or damage, and to lock up afterward. Liability aside, gym lights, heating systems, fans and water for the showers all cost money.

"Sport Manitoba and the organizations and even the provincial government have said, 'Go a little easier', and the answer is no," Thomas said.

Regardless of how late anyone uses the gym or change rooms, kids and teachers expect that a custodian has stayed afterward to clean up for the next morning, and someone has to pay that person, Thomas said.

Education Minister Peter Bjornson's staff would not make the minister available to discuss possible provincial funding, and the city declined to make available the staffer responsible for booking recreation programs into school gyms.

The advisory committee's full report is available at

Who just reported on what?

The advisory committee on the joint use of school and community facilities reported on community use of school gyms. It's a followup on the Healthy Kids, Healthy Futures task force report on childhood obesity and lifestyle-related illnesses.

The full report is available at


Are school gyms available to the community?

Yes and no.

Generally, schools use their own gyms at least up to 6 p.m. Mondays to Fridays. Some high schools use their gyms so heavily that there are no time slots set aside for the community.

Weeknights, the study found, high school gyms are available for community use 14 per cent of the time and elementary and middle-school gyms 43 per cent of the time, from 6 to 10 p.m.

Some school gyms close much earlier, whenever the custodian locks up and goes home.

Do divisions charge for using the gym?

Yes and no.

Weekends, you'll pay $30 an hour and up if the school has to bring in a custodian to be on site and clean and lock up afterward.

Some divisions don't charge during the week, such as Louis Riel and Pembina Trails. Winnipeg S.D. will give you a gym on a weeknight for $20 for the entire school year if 90 per cent of your group lives in the division. If you can't hit the residency requirement, WSD's fee soars to $29 an hour.

How do I know if there are slots available?

You pretty much have to phone the school division.

Pembina Trails S.D. lists every gym slot in every school, so you can see who uses the gym and when, and if there is a slot available, at:



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 26, 2009 B1

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