New Brunswick

School district bans renting of gyms over Christmas, March Break

Saint John's basketball community calls foul after the Anglophone South School District announces it will no longer rent gyms and other school space over Christmas and March Break.

A letter announcing change in policy goes out to groups that rent school space on a regular basis

The Anglophone South School District sent out a letter last month, telling regular users of school gyms that it will stop renting them over March Break and Christmas holidays. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Saint John's basketball community is calling foul after the Anglophone South School District announced it would no longer rent gyms and other school space over Christmas and March Break.

"My basic concern would be for the physical literacy of children," Keith Thomas, the president of the River Valley Basketball Association, said in response to the change in policy.

"It's just another area where the publicly funded facilities are being taken out of the equation."

The head of the volunteer basketball association said that besides summer, Christmas and March Break are the only times that activities such as basketball and cheerleading camps can be held.

The district's move, announced in a letter to user groups a few weeks ago, is just one more decision that restricts where and how often organized basketball is available in the southern half of New Brunswick, Thomas said.

John MacDonald, director of finance for the district, said that starting in September, a district staff member will have to be present during rentals.

"This is for health and safety reasons and to ensure our facilities are cleaned after the rental and secured," he wrote in an email.

MacDonald said most schools have custodial staff at night from Monday through Friday, so a group renting space would not be charged.

"Christmas and March Break is a time when our custodial staff, like most of our staff, try and take time some time off," he said.

The district decided that for those two breaks, it would try cutting out rentals altogether. The district can use these times to catch up on cleaning and minor maintenance, which can be difficult to do while students are in classes.

More changes underway

However, according to the letter, this is just one of several changes the district is making.

The letter also says that if a group rents facilities Saturday and Sunday after 6 p.m., it must hire two custodians.

Once a booking has been made, there can be no alterations, and a cancellation must be made with 48 hours notice.

Keith Thomas, president of the River Valley Basketball Association, said that besides summer, Christmas and March Break are the only times basketball, cheerleading and other camps can be held.
While Thomas understands some of the changes, he said he's felt an increasing squeeze over the years on the accessibility of basketball in southern New Brunswick.

"A lot of [communities] do not build community centres for the mere fact publicly funded facilities like this already exist," he said.

"Why do duplication?"

For Thomas, much of the restriction that the basketball community feels results from rising costs to operate in these publicly funded spaces.

"They're there and they should be able to be used by the community," he said.

"The more it gets restricted, the more it cuts into the activities you can provide."

Several groups affected

Steven Brittain said two of his children have gone to March Break basketball camps hosted at schools and one child is still at the right age for such camps.

Brittain said he is disappointed with the news.

While children might not go on to be star players, or even make their school teams, the skills they developed were attributed to the camps that are going to be cut.

Saint John isn't exactly swimming with public gymnasiums that are available.- Steven Brittain 

"They come home, they've had busy days and they're tired, but they want to go back the next day," he said.

He called the district's decision "frustrating and hard to understand."

Both Thomas and Brittain pointed out that it's not just basketball camps that will be affected. Brittain suggests soccer might also be hit.

"They're not privately run institutions," he said.

In March, there aren't a lot of other places the athletes can go, he said.

"If there are only one or two gyms and everybody is asking for the same floor spaces, that could potentially drive the costs up," the father said.

"Saint John isn't exactly swimming with public gymnasiums that are available."

Thomas said basketball is still one of the stronger sports in New Brunswick, but it is an inside sport, so it's reliant on indoor facilities.

"It requires a large gym floor with baskets at either ends, and, for the most part, those are only available in schools," he said.


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