Shared Use Agreements- Advancing Policy in Tennessee

Christy SmithA joint or shared use agreement is a formal agreement between two groups, for example a school district and a city or county, which allows for the use of public property, like a school playground or field, after regular school hours. Shared use agreements can help school districts save money on the development, operation, and maintenance of the facilities that will be shared.. Shared use agreements are an efficient use of public space and an almost effortless strategy against childhood obesity. Studies have shown that the number of children who are physically active outside of school is 84 percent higher when schoolyards are kept open for public play (Farley T, Meriwether R, Baker E, Watkins L, Johnson C, Webber L. Safe place spaces to promote physical activity in inner-city children. Results from a pilot study of an environmental intervention. Am J Pub Health. 2007; 97:1625-1631.)

In 2011 Tennessee lawmakers passed House Bill 1151, addressing concerns of liability and encourages schools to open their facilities to the community for recreational and community use. Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-112, ‘authorizes the use of school properties by the community to promote and preserve the health and general welfare of the people and provide adequate programs of public recreation’.  The law removes the liability for the local board of education when sharing their property, so that it lies in the hands of the user.

The passage of the shared use bill was a giant step forward in increasing access to opportunities for physical activity for people of all ages in the state. In 2012, in an effort to further advance shared use agreements, Tennessee Safe Routes to School state network members, working with the Tennessee Obesity Task Force applied for and were awarded a rapid response grant from The American Heart Association. Thirteen rural counties across the state were identified as high risk based on their high percentage of overweight and obese citizens, their high rates of poverty and social distress and their lack of access to transportation to grocery stores health care and safe places to play. Efforts were made to educate these communities about the new law so they would create long-lasting formal, written agreements rather than informal, verbal agreements. Five of the thirteen counties identified in this project will have a formal joint use process in place by the end of the 2012-2013 school year. Additionally, five counties received Safe Routes to School grants from the state and the others are working on gaining school board approval or including shared use agreements in their school wellness policies.

In late 2012 another project was taken on by Tennessee network members in partnership with the Tennessee Parks and Recreation Association (Parks). They were awarded a grant from Eat Well Play More to map all of the shared use facilities in schools across the state. The project will identify the type of agreement-formal, informal or open, and result in a free interactive map for anyone to use, the Recreational Joint Facility Use Map. The project will also serve as a research and information tool for professionals across the state of Tennessee.  Results are still coming in as school administrators fill out the survey.  In April 2013 all of the Coordinated School Health staff in Tennessee were introduced to the importance of sharing their playgrounds by the Tennessee network.  The work of collecting data from around the state is not done yet. We need your help to complete the map: to fill out the survey for your school please go to: TN Recreational Joint Use Agreement Survey