Officials Consider Opening School Parks to Public

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PANAMA CITY Most every kids loves to play on a playground.

However, most public school facilities are closed during non-school hours.

A bill moving through Tallahassee could encourage school boards to change that.

Both Bay County School and county officials agree it's a great concept in theory.

Parks like the one behind me contain resources like swings, baseball fields, basketball courts, and tracks that sit useless during off-hours.

This bill would give school districts the discretion to change that.

Bay County officials are hoping the new proposal in Tallahassee could promote a partnership with its school district.

Bay County Parks and Recreation Chair Scott Clemo says, "They've historically shied away from this because of some liability concerns and I don't think that's a valid concern anymore. Liability insurance is really inexpensive."

Operational Support Services Executive Director Dr. John Haley says, "With greater utilization comes a greater responsibility to maintain the campus. And there is no guarantee, I have not read it that there's going to be funding to hire additional people."

The Bay County School District is taking matters into their own hands. For the past 6 months, they've been working on a draft agreement with the City of Panama City to open up some of their schools to peewee teams and soccer teams.

Right now the inter-local agreement includes Cherry Street Elementary, Rosenwald Middle, Jinks Middle, Margaret K. Lewis, and Oakland Terrace Schools.

Haley explains, "It's mutually beneficial to Bay District Schools and the City of Panama City. They will come in and take care of our property, we will provide access to utilize for recreational purposes."

The agreement would allow access to those recreational areas for the 2014-2015 school year, and then will be up for another review.

Clemo says, "I'm happy that the Bay District Schools is working with the city and hopefully we'll be able to put something together to work with the county as well."

Of course, another big concern is the safety of the school during these off-hours.

Officials say fences will need to be built that will block off the publicly-accessible parks and fields from the actual campus building.