Watertown Youth Sports Groups Concerned About Being Charged to Use School Gyms

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Charlie Breitrose

Members of the Watertown High School girls basketball team ran a clinic for youth players on Sunday morning.

The School Committee is examining its policy for charging groups to use school facilities, such as the gyms. Watertown youth sports groups oppose any fees, saying it could prevent some kids from participating in their programs.

A proposal to charge town youth groups to use the gyms at the Watertown Public Schools has parents and youth sports groups concerned.

The subject came up last year because School officials had heard that Watertown youth groups were getting squeezed out of the gyms by for-profit renters. A policy was created to create a priority list for users of the school facilities, and fees were examined and increased on for-profit users.

At a joint meeting of the School Committee’s Budget & Finance and Buildings & Grounds subcommittees, School officials found that the fees had not always been charged.

“As the fees were implemented, it became clear that past practice had not followed the past fee policy and there were significant inconsistencies regarding who was charged and at what level,” said School Committee Vice Chair Kendra Foley. “Many organizations that should have been charged, based on the fee structure, either had not been charged at all or had been inconsistently charged over the years.”

The priority order for use of school facilities is:

  1. Watertown School Department sponsored and school-related events
  2. Other Town Department activities
  3. Watertown non-profit organizations and community activities
  4. Non-Watertown non-profit organizations and community activities
  5. For-profit organizations or commercial business

The hourly rental fees for using the gyms at any of the schools is $85 for in-town not-for-profits, $105 for other not-for-profits, and $150 for for-profit groups. See the policy by clicking here (fees are on page 9).

The School Committee discussed the fees for using School facilities at a meeting on March 4. During the same meeting, a letter from Watertown parent and youth sports coach Matt Lambo was read.

“These schools were built for the children of this town. The gyms, cafeterias and auditoriums were built to be used by the children of this town,” Lambo wrote. “Treating them like renters is wrong on so many levels. If this committee continues to do so you can expect considerable pushback from me and many other concerned parents.”

Lambo argued that the youth sports programs teach valuable skills, such as teamwork, leadership, and responsibility. Losing access to the programs could put students at risk. He added that he believed the fees should be waived for Watertown youth groups.

“These non-profit programs do not have the funds to absorb rental rates so dues will be forced to go up,” Lambo wrote. “These increases will result in lower program enrollment and ultimately in kids not participating.”

The School Committee decided to keep charging the groups the same way they have in the past for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2019.

Before the new fiscal year starts, Foley said, school officials will work with Watertown youth groups and other “partners” to come up with a solution.

“I want to make sure they know they will have whatever they had expected in the past, and we’ll be working between now and July 1 to get something that works for the district as well as our community partners.” Foley said.

3 thoughts on “Watertown Youth Sports Groups Concerned About Being Charged to Use School Gyms

  1. As a former Coach and President of Watertown Youth Basketball I completely agree with Matt Lambo’s position. Twenty years ago we had the same conversations with the School Committee when the Boston Sports and Social Club began renting gyms, particularly at the middle school and high school. Our position, then and now, is that our children should have first use of the gyms in our schools which were built for them. Our school committee should NOT be in the business of renting our gyms to add money to their budget. (Note: The Rent income was a huge number 20 years ago…but never was really a line item in the school budget. Why?)

    The fact is that Watertown is very fortunate to have many quality youth sport programs run by volunteers who invest thousands of hours per year for our children in addition to a great Recreation Department. The lessons that team sports teach our children is undisputed.

    What is also undisputed is that many children would be locked out of participation if the school department charged for gym time to Youth Sport Prograns. That fact is supported and readily available to the school department in the number of children eligible a for subsidized meals, etc.

    The agreement we had in the past was that gyms would not be rented to outside groups until after 9pm, if there were Watertown Youth Groups that needed to use the gyms. The gyms were made available to official Watertown Youth Groups when the schools had custodial coverage in the building. (Ie. It didnt cost the school department money because the building was already open.)

    Indoor programs, such as basketball, provide an activity for Watertown kids to participate when you can’t play a sport outside in the middle of the winter. Any charge, (not to mention $85/hr) would have a serious negative effect on the programs offered to our children. I watched it close programs in other towns overnight. The cost is just unsustainable for a voluntary youth sport program.

    Again, the message that our school committee needs to understand is that the schools we are building (and the ones we currently have) are for our children’s use, both academically and for sporting prograns. We are not building schools to be rented out to the highest bidder. The last time this subject came up by a subcommittee of the school committee an overflow crowd that would have filled the high school auditorium showed up for a meeting on the third floor of the Phillips School.
    Hopefully, that meeting isn’t necessary again.

    I applaud our Town Manager, Town Counselors and all others responsible for building three new elementary schools (and hopefully a new High School) in Watertown. Let’s just try to keep in mind that we are building the schools for our children’s use, not as rental units.

  2. Well said, Mr. Holt! I agree with you 100%. With the amount of tax revenue the town must be collecting from all the new development can we have something to show for it? I know our residential property taxes are still increasing. Does the town really need the money it’s charging the youth sports programs (run by volunteers) that badly?. Let’s make educating and providing positive programs for our kids a priority! Please stop nickeling and diming us.

  3. I agree, Watertown non-profit groups should not be charged for the use of the facilities. The facilities should be available to all children in the town, not only those who can afford it. What little money the non-profit organizations have is already allocated to other needs. Also, if they have to pay the $85 per hour fee, they will certainly be spending less time using the facilities, as the cost to use the facilities will outweigh their budget.

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