For several years, education institutions have seen the benefits of sharing facilities with the surrounding neighborhood.

Institutions can save money by sharing site-acquisition, construction and operation costs; can lessen the impact on a neighborhood by combining facilities; and can become a better neighbor by welcoming the community.

Gymnasiums are among the spaces most in demand by others in the community. Lacking funds and available space, local governments have turned to schools to help provide facilities.

Although the benefits of sharing gymnasiums seem clear, the logistics of sharing space may be difficult. How a facility is designed is important, says Michael Guarino, director of design for TeamHaas Architects in Austin, Texas, but more critical is for administrators to have the right mindset.

“A lot of it has to do with changing attitudes about ‘What is a school?’” says Guarino.

TeamHaas designed the Pickle Elementary School and the St. John Community Center in Austin. It has a 32-classroom school, a health center, public library and community police station. The school and the community share the gymnasium and cafeteria.

John Vinke, associate superintendent of business in the Lawndale, Calif., elementary district, says the most difficult part of sharing facilities has been hammering out the agreement between the city and district.

“It's challenging for agencies to see beyond their own sphere of responsibility,” says Vinke. “For the school district, we have to reach beyond saying ‘We're just about education’ and ask, ‘What are the greater needs of the community?’”

The Lawndale district received a $1 million grant from California to partner with the city on a gymnasium at Will Rogers Middle School.

To serve a community effectively, a joint-use gymnasium has to be considerably larger than a typical elementary facility, says Guarino. In Lawndale, the facility includes not only a full-size basketball court, but also multipurpose classrooms and a mini-kitchen.

Security concerns also are critical. The Lawndale gymnasium is a separate facility, and gates can close off access to the adjacent middle school. The gym has a keyless security system that controls when district and city officials have access to the facility.

In Austin, the gymnasium and school are part of the same building. To provide the security and separation the school requires when classes are in session, the gymnasium has separate entrances for students and members of the public. The doors on either side can be closed to keep outsiders from entering the gymnasium during school hours, or from getting into the school from the gymnasium after hours.


NOTABLE

$50 MILLION

The amount of school construction grant funds available in 2003 in California for building joint-use facilities.

$1 MILLION

Maximum school construction grant in California for a joint-use project at an elementary school.

$1.5 MILLION

Maximum school construction grant in California for a joint-use project at a middle school.

$2 MILLION

Maximum school construction grant in California for a joint-use project at a high school.

Source: California Office of Public School Construction.