Fairfax County supervisors on Nov. 1 approved updates to the county’s gym-allocation policy, but also asked county staff to determine the feasibility of keeping schools and other community facilities open longer to meet increased demand.
The Department of Neighborhood and Community Services and Fairfax County Athletic Council last fall began reviewing the rules, which initially were implemented in 2008.
The revised policy continues to give priority to youths over adults, but makes these changes:
• Groups seeking to become certified athletic organizations, and receive prioritized scheduling as a result, must verify their non-profit status and provide proof they have at least $1 million worth of liability insurance that also names the county’s school system, Park Authority and Board of Supervisors as co-insured parties. In addition, the groups must provide written certification that they have policies requiring background checks for all adults working with youths.
• Instead of assigning space based upon the total number of participants divided by an allocation factor, which then decides the number of teams, the revised policy will allot space based on the number of teams, as determined by their submitted schedules and rosters.
• In lieu of assigning more space to youth travel and select basketball and volleyball clubs, the new gym policy now will align with the county’s field policy and give more space based on age instead of skill. The idea is to ensure access for all youth-sports participants, instead of a select few, officials said.
• The new policy also eliminates the current designated nightly stopping time for youth programs in order to allow more flexibility in scheduling youth and adult groups. This change also mirrors the county’s field policy.
Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock) noted that outdoor activities on school fields are allowed until 11 p.m., while the cutoff for school gyms is 10:15 p.m. The policy “severely limits” county staff’s ability to provide indoor recreation space for athletic groups, especially adult organizations that are willing to play later at night, he said.
Cook estimated the county could accommodate about 200 more athletic games per week if the closing time for school gyms were pushed back to 11 p.m. Supervisors approved Cook’s motion to have county staff investigate the feasibility of doing so and report back to the board by next spring.
“I realize that a later closing time is likely to have financial implications,” Cook said.
County staff also should look into the possibility of building slightly larger elementary-school gyms, because many of the current ones are too small to accommodate many indoor sports, said Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield).
The staff report also should include information concerning the rest of the school buildings if gym hours are extended, said Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence).
A veteran of countless lengthy civic meetings, Smyth said earlier closing hours might be merciful.
“I’d like to see the buildings close at 9 some evenings,” she said. “I think that we have to consider there are other ramifications here in keeping the buildings open for public use later.”