Feature Article - June 2007
Find a printable version here


Building Active, Involved Communities

Parks and recreation departments surveyed were highly likely to form partnerships with other organizations.

More than 96 percent formed partnerships, and the most common partners were local schools, local government and nonprofit organizations.

Atilano cited one creative partnership between a park district and a health provider. "We just had a park district sign a 10-year agreement with a private health provider that is giving them rent to associate with that space," he said. "They're going out onto the fitness floor, and 50 percent of those people will become members. That's a best-case scenario."

Wallover said that she expects partnerships to change over the next several years to become more inclusive. "Everybody's looking to maximize the use of their dollar," she said. "Of course, the budgets will be affected by families when you get more of them involved."

She added, "Taxes have been the way of doing things in the past. People are starting to say no because so much has been levied against them, and I don't think we've yet hit our peak in creativity in terms of getting things accomplished. That's where a lot of these partnerships will help develop projects that might otherwise have been taxed."

The second most common issue of concern among parks and recreation departments is equipment and facility maintenance, which more than half of respondents said was an issue for them. Nearly half said they expected it would still be a concern three years from now.

Looking at the budgeting and maintenance needs over the entire lifecycle of a facility, whether that's a building, a park shelter or a playground, rather than just the initial cost of buying and installing equipment, is essential up front.

"Particularly urban parks are going to have to be durable," Figurski explained. "They're going to have to be very maintainable, because the moment they aren't, they tend to decline."

"Playgrounds have a functional lifecycle, just as a mower or tractor," Christiansen explained. "And they need to budget a life period of about 15 years, and eventually change out some of their equipment each year and not do a massive change all at once."

Hendy agreed, adding that people need to be realistic about their capital investments. "If they're looking at a capital investment of $200,000 and they're thinking they're going to get it installed and then never have to touch it again, that's not realistic," she explained of playgrounds. "You tell them it's got a lifecycle of 12 to 15 years and that they will have to attend to the surfacing both in a routine format and also replace it about halfway through the life of that structure." "Once they understand that lifecycle, they also need to anticipate more than routine maintenance."

Here again, partnerships can be a way to ensure maintenance is taken care of—and paid for.

"Here in New York, we've gone heavily into community involvement," Wallach explained. "We have organizations and local community groups who support a specific playground or park and are the basis of that budget."

"I think you see that in a lot of communities," agreed Jean Schappet, an advisory board member for IPEMA's Voice of Play Initiative whose 25-year career in the playground industry includes consulting, designing play environments, teaching and writing. "You have friends of the park, or whatever they choose to call it."

Hendy explained that this kind of community group gives the facility a voice. "If people value that public amenity, they're going to give it a voice and honor it with their resources," she said.