Manatee County Commissioner Gallen finds success in opening playgrounds

March 9, 2013 

Manatee County Commissioner Michael Gallen found some success with his goal of opening school playgrounds to the public when schools are not in session. The district has agreed to open playgrounds at elementary schools on weekends, holidays and during the summer -- even weekdays when a school is not holding classes or afternoon programs.

People of a certain age will remember this was always the case. The notion that these taxpayer-funded recreational facilities would be off limits is hard to imagine when generations of youth took advantage of school ballfields, tennis courts, swing sets and teeter-totters.

But we live in a different age -- one where too many things get locked up out of security or liability fears.

Gallen unlocked the gates with a reasonable argument: keep kids active and busy to prevent crime and improve health in a positive and safe environment.

He began his quest ahead of the Legislature's 2012 regular session when he found support for bills in both the House and Senate. But the legislation failed to pass muster.

When Gallen turned his attention to the Manatee school district, he found only 13 out of 33 elementary school playgrounds were open to the public. That number will now rise.

This particularly benefits neighborhoods with few recreational assets.

And Gallen hasn't given up on legislation, promoting a measure that would offer incentives -- including immunity from liability -- to encourage joint-use agreements between school districts and local governments.

Kudos to Commissioner Gallen for continuing to pursue this worthy idea.

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