Residents could have more weekend recreation choices under a new effort by city officials to partner with local schools for the use of outdoor play spaces.
Under a three-year grant aimed at creating healthier environments for children, the city plans to develop more shared-use agreements with Wake County Public Schools, especially in areas where families have limited access to playgrounds and parks.
The $210,000 grant comes from the John Rex Endowment, which last week awarded $1.25 million to six Wake County municipalities for projects that increase children’s access to healthful foods and opportunities to be physically active.
Scott Payne, the assistant director of Raleigh’s parks department, said the grant will build on the city’s recently approved parks and recreation system plan by providing residents with park amenities close to home.
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“It does seem to fit well with what our community told us. They like to walk to parks and neighborhood parks, and they value partnerships,” he said.
The city has existing agreements with several Wake schools, including between the elementary schools and community centers at Barwell Road and Brier Creek. In those locations, the schools and community centers share land and buildings.
Payne said the agreements will be structured to support the needs of both the schools and the city. Because the focus is on weekend arrangements, the effort will not interfere with physical education or recess time, or after-school activities.
“We’re looking forward to the planning and finding out what the community needs, and seeing where the two might meet,” said Zackery Davis, the joint use administrator for Wake schools.
The other municipalities – Knightdale, Morrisville, Garner, Zebulon and Fuquay-Varina – will pursue projects that can remain in place long after the grant period, including the development of farmers markets, additional greenways and trails and healthy vending policies.
Sara Merz, executive director of Advocates for Health in Action, a Wake County group that will help connect all of the municipalities to existing resources during the grant period, said the approach is significant because the projects make structural changes to the environment people live in rather than solely providing short-term programming.
Environmental changes that affect the choices people can make have been shown to have long-term lasting health benefits. While a focus on individual behavior does change health outcomes, research shows the improvements can fade when programming stops, she said.
“The environmental change is a way to put things in place where the gift can keep on giving,” Merz said.
Active Living By Design, a Chapel Hill-based group, will provide technical assistance to the municipalities. Phil Bors, senior project officer for the group, said the grants are a chance for cities and towns to focus on how their work affects health.
“They can have a unique role, and this is a really exciting time to see what kinds of changes and improvements they can make in their communities,” he said.
The Raleigh City Council is scheduled to vote Aug. 5 to formally accept the grant.