MANATEE -- Manatee County Commissioner Michael Gallen's effort to open public school playgrounds for recreation during nonschool hours has resulted in a few successes.
Last year, Gallen met with school district officials and so far, they have agreed to open playgrounds at James Tillman Elementary Magnet School, in Palmetto, and at Manatee Elementary, in Bradenton, during off-hours, Gallen reported in an email to Deputy County Administrator Karen Windon.
"Initially, I started out (advocating for) a positive place to hang out, so they're doing something positive, rather than getting in trouble, to begin to reduce juvenile crime," recalled Gallen of
his quest over many months. "But there are health advantages as well, keeping kids busy and healthy recreation, as well."
The opening of the grounds during nonschool hours at Tillman Elementary, 1415 29th St. E., Palmetto was especially important, Gallen said.
"The community desired a safe place for the children to play," he said Wednesday. "There's not a whole lot of recreation in that area."
At Lincoln Middle School, 305 17th St. E., Gallen's efforts to open its tennis courts have spawned the possibility of a new after-school program.
Tennis pro Bob Davis, president and chief executive officer of The Panda Foundation, is planning to launch an after-school tennis program that would also include discipline, academic mentoring, nutrition and other character-enrichment activities, he said.
Davis was approached by community leaders in Palmetto, who had been working with Gallen.
"He's a pro-active commissioner, as you probably know," Davis said.
Gallen is also hopeful that Manatee County might be able to win a grant through the Manatee County Health Department that would help to open school playgrounds to the public during nonschool hours.
Another possibility is a bill in the Florida Legislature that would provide incentives for joint-use agreements between local governments and schools, such as immunity from liability, Gallen said.
"The purpose is to encourage healthy activities," he added.
"We underutilize our public schools," Gallen said. "Hopefully, it'll be a snowball effect: Open all the schools to the community, it's an asset already paid for. Use what we got."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.