Commissioner: Manatee school playgrounds will be open to the public

Herald Staff WritersFebruary 27, 2013 

MANATEE -- Every Manatee County elementary school playground will be open on weekends, holidays and during summer, and those without after-school programs will also be open to the public during nonschool hours on weekdays, an official said Tuesday.

Manatee County Commissioner Michael Gallen reported that a committee of officials with whom he had been meeting had agreed to open most school playgrounds after hours to the public.

"Every school will be open on weekends, holidays and summertimes," Gallen said.

Right now, the focus is on opening elementary schools, with some exceptions, Gallen said. Elementary schools with after-school programs would be exempt from the new policy for security reasons, he said.

Gallen has been campaigning to open school playgrounds to the public because they provide park-like amenities to neighborhoods around them.

"Developers count them as open space under the comprehensive plan," he said, "So they should be open to the public."

Gallen said Manatee County School Board member Barbara Harvey was on the committee, as well as school district and county staff members.

"We already have an interlocal agreement from 1995 with the school district to try to share resources," he said.

"The underlining issue now is there is no centralized authority. It's up to each principal to open the playground up to the public."

The committee has had a pilot program at Manatee and Tillman elementary schools, and at the tennis courts at Lincoln Middle School, the first-term commissioner said.

The school district staff will hold individual meetings with each principal to detail concerns, and report back to the committee when it meets again in March, Gallen said.

Even though the committee has reached an agreement, "I wouldn't count on all of the schools being open this weekend until they have talked to all the principals," he said.

When he first started his efforts, a survey found that 13 out of 33 elementary schools were already open to the public, Gallen said.

"We have worked together throughout the years," said Harvey, "and we want to continue."

The issue will be on a future school board meeting agenda, she said.

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

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