Feature Article - June 2007
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School Facilities

More than 70 percent of respondents from schools and school districts said they had plans to build new, add onto their existing facilities or renovate their existing facilities in the next three years. More than one-third plan to build new, and another third plan to add to their existing facilities. More than half are planning renovations.

Schools plan to spend 47 percent more on average on their additions, renovations and new facilities than the average survey respondent. The average amount budgeted for these plans is $5.6 million. This is likely due to the need to construct entire schools, rather than simply parks or community centers.

The most common amenities currently found in school facilities were mainly related to athletics and physical education. The top amenities featured (all of which are included in three-quarters or more of the school facilities in our survey) included locker rooms, bleachers and seating, concession areas, natural turf sports fields, indoor sports courts and running tracks. Schools were also more likely than the average respondent to include outdoor sport courts, climbing walls and synthetic turf sports fields.

Among the top amenities respondents said their school facilities will add within the next three years were bleachers and seating, synthetic turf sports fields, fitness centers, locker rooms and concession areas. Many also are planning to add sport courts—both indoor and outdoor—playgrounds and climbing walls.

The higher incidence of facilities planning to add synthetic turf sports fields in the next several years is likely driven by several factors, including the need to program a day's worth of events on the field. Natural turf needs to rest in between events, making it difficult to allow for physical education classes to take place on the field all day long. One South Carolina-based director of athletics said that "availability of outdoor athletic fields" was his top concern.

Another factor is the perception of improved safety with synthetic turf. Students playing on synthetic turf are less likely to be playing on worn-out, overburdened turf, and they're also less likely to be exposed to dangerous pesticides and herbicides.

In fact, one trend that may take hold in many communities is the restriction of fertilizer use, which could impact facilities' decisions to build natural turf or synthetic turf sports fields. Florida recently became the first state to restrict fertilizer content for lawns, farms, golf courses and landscaping to low- or no-phosphate. The move aims to protect Lake Okeechobee and other waterways from pollution. The rule does allow for application of larger amounts of fertilizer for golf courses and athletic fields.

One New York-based director of buildings and grounds cited similar concerns as his top issue: "Keeping up the condition of our fields and facilities with ever-increasing usage and ever-tightening budget concerns and environmental restrictions."

According to John Miller, an associate professor of Sport Management at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, schools are trending toward team sports like basketball, football and soccer, and away from individual sports—or what Miller calls "Olympic sports"—like track and field or swimming.

"I see a trend away from sports that might be more lifetime-oriented like running and swimming. I'm not exactly sure why," he said. "It may be because of publicity. You see football, you see soccer, you see men's and women's basketball, softball and baseball. I think it might have some reflection on some of the classes in physical education being offered."

Nearly half of school respondents said their facilities currently include a fitness center, and more still are planning to add fitness facilities, a trend that can help encourage kids to develop a lifetime devotion to fitness habits that until now has often been left for college recreation facilities.

Miller explained that attracting high school students into a fitness facility might be a good way to adapt physical education to changing needs and perceptions.

"Instead of having physical education in the gym setting, have more high schools when they're building the school incorporate things like the colleges—not necessarily to that extent, but a facility that's going to be nice and attract students to come to class at a place where they could do aerobics, Spinning, machine lifting and weightlifting—incorporate more of the lifetime fitness aspects into it," Miller said. "We could have classes in jogging, Spinning, Pilates, tae kwon do. It would be difficult to do that, but you could tap into the college and student teaching. I don't know why if the student is in physical education or something similar and is student teaching basketball and football, why can't they teach weight training?"

Miller added that at the high school level, this would allow kids who don't go out for sports to find an opportunity to enjoy some other kind of activity.