Starting this year, more people will find it easier and cheaper to use Ontario’s schools after hours.
The province is increasing its spending for its community use of schools program to $66-million over the next four years. That new funding will:
– expand the existing program;
– provide free, after-hours access to about 500 schools in communities that need it most by 2011-12; and
– provide new community outreach coordinators who will engage communities and local schools to improve group use and create more programs and activities.
"Learning and growing doesn’t stop when the school bell rings or when you reach a certain age, so we want our schools to be hubs of the community during the school day and after school hours," said Premier Dalton McGuinty.
"Ontario’s schools are the heart of our neighbourhoods and we’re welcoming even more people through the doors," said Education Minister Kathleen Wynne.
Minister of Health Promotion Margarett Best said, "We want to help all Ontarians stay healthy and get fit."
This year, funding for lowering fees will be $33-million – a 65 per cent increase over last year.
The Upper Grand District School Board has huge numbers of people using schools in Guelph, Orangeville, and in all areas of Wellington County except one. Communications director Maggie McFadzen said in an interview that, for reasons the board has yet to determine, there is less use of schools in Minto, and Mapleton, and Wellington North Townships than in the rest of the county.
She said in other schools, it is often the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Brownies, Cubs, and Sports groups that use the school gyms or Sports fields.
McFadzen said she is aware of the grant announcement, and that it will not take effect until the next school year. She also noted the province has not sent any directions or money to date, but the money is supposed to be used for areas that provide some upgrades, as well as some staff to encourage local use.
She said the board is reviewing its regular fees, and will set those when it discusses budget, and, she hopes, the board will know by then what funding the province will provide for this initiative.
The Wellington Catholic District School Board also has hundreds of people using its schools after hours, and more funding would allow the board to increase that use, according to Superintendent of Corporate Affairs Dan Duszczyszyn.
“We have a whole variety of groups using our schools after hours and weekend,” he said, noting that the schools are particularly used by Sports groups such as the Youth Basketball Association, an affiliate of the Catholic Youth Organization, and local community groups. He noted that at least one school is used by Special Olympics participants and contenders.
“There is significant use, and the province is encouraging that,” he said.
Duszczyszyn said the main use of the provincial money will be for the usual costs: heat, hydro, janitorial needs, and waste management.
However, he noted that not just anyone can walk in and start using school facilities.
“We do have an application process,” Duszczyszyn explained. “There are some restrictions.”
For example, he said groups using the school need insurance, in order to protect the board against lawsuits if there are injuries. And, he added, “We need to know who is using the school, and what they’re there for.”
He added that in some cases, for profit groups use school facilities, and the board requires full disclosure for them.
But, he said, people have the right to form a group and use the facilities.
“We advise people if they’re involved in any group and there might be an injury, that they get insurance or waivers.”
Duszczyszyn noted that he has not heard how much money his board will be eligible to receive and noted that the province has indicated that it will focus mainly on areas of need, but that the Wellington board will be pleased with funds it can obtain to expand access to its schools.
Learn more about on-line www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/community
Find out how to book a school after hours by visiting www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/community/dsb.html.