By Oliver Lazenby
When Kari Holley moved to the Blaine area from Oregon, she was surprised that the Blaine School District’s complex of baseball and soccer fields, Pipeline Fields, is gated and mostly closed to the public.
Her kids previously attended school in two separate districts that both allowed public access to sports fields.
“If I wanted to take my son to play baseball on a Sunday I could take him to the school. It was open to everyone,” she said.
While Pipeline Fields is available to organized sports teams, a six-foot-tall chain link fence topped with barbed wire surrounds it and the gate is often locked. A sign by the gate reads, “No unsupervised or unauthorized use is permitted.”
Access at Pipeline Fields was one of the most popular topics at a February 25 school board work session on the district’s facility use policy. The policy details the use of everything from sports fields and gyms to classrooms and auditoriums by non-school groups. The school district plans to rewrite the policy over the next few months and the public work session was the first step.
While several people at the meeting thanked the district for
allowing more access to school facilities in recent years, most wanted more or easier access.
The district doesn’t plan on making its policy more restrictive, as some people feared, school board member Laura McKinney said.
“The reason that we opened up a community discussion with this policy is really because so many people are interested in access to the school,” she said. “We just wanted to have a chance to talk about it and make sure that the policy procedure that we’re working with meets the needs of the community.”
The district’s current policy separates school facility users into three groups, each with a different fee structure for using the facilities. School and child-related groups such as athletic teams and 4-H clubs can use school facilities for the cost of overtime pay to a school district custodian, unless their use doesn’t require a custodian to work overtime.
Nonprofit groups must pay a fee of between $20 and $100, depending on what they’re using, for two hours. The cost for businesses and other commercial groups ranges from $40 to $200 for two hours.
The school district presented a draft of the policy at the February 25 meeting that includes some updates recommended by the Washington State School Directors’ Association – groups using the facilities
must comply with the district’s anti-discrimination policies, for example.
The district plans to present a new policy draft, informed by the February 25 meeting, at an April 29 school board meeting.
“I think we heard you clearly tonight that you want greater access, greater flexibility and more opportunities for kids in the community,” district superintendent Ron Spanjer said at the end of the work session.