Manatee County officials rethinking playgrounds grant

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 6, 2013 

MANATEE -- Officials have expressed doubts about applying for a $30,000 grant designed to open Manatee County school playgrounds to the public outside of regular school hours.

The KaBOOM! grant, which calls for a 50 percent local match, is designed to encourage joint-use agreements between Manatee County and its school board, setting forth terms for shared use of public property, county documents said.

It would require opening at least eight playgrounds outside of regular school hours that are not open to the public now, due to legal or management issues, documents said.

The idea is to open playgrounds for unstructured play for the health and benefit of residents, officials said Tuesday at a Council of Governments meeting at the Manatee County Public Safety Center.

However, both county commissioners and school board members were concerned about a grant requirement to open the playgrounds for no less than five years.

They wanted the freedom to close them should problems develop, or if the playgrounds are needed for some other use.

They were also concerned about a requirement to recognize KaBOOM! Let's Play, and the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, a maker of flavored beverages and soft drinks, as part of the grant agreement.

Noting the soft drink company might oppose anti-obesity efforts, school board Chairwoman Karen Carpenter said, "The KaBOOM! grant might not be such a good idea."

In 2011, as part of Let's Play, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group made a $15 million, three-year commitment to KaBOOM!, a nonprofit organization meant to ensure there is a place to play within walking distance of every child.

The county could accomplish the same results without the grant or its agree

ment restrictions, said Mike Pendley, a school district planner.

Officials asked him to report back on the subject.

County Commissioner Michael Gallen noted that in his district, school playgrounds historically have served as community green spaces and are especially important in urbanized areas.

"It's paramount we do work through this," he said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.

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