Glocester council questions fees for use of school recreation facilities

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Glocester Recreation Director Robert Shields speaks before the Town Council.

GLOCESTER – Foster-Glocester Regional Schools have been used for town recreational purposes for years, including adult coed basketball and coed volleyball, as well as other youth activities. The schools decided last spring to start charging residents for using the facilities, which, some say ironically, their tax dollars paid for.

“I don’t think they really comprehended that we are kind of all on the same team in that the town and the region are not necessarily two separate entities,” town Recreation Director Robert Shields told the Town Council at its recent meeting. “It was indicated to them that the region does utilize some of our town facilities in order to fulfill their baseball requirements.”

Shields explained that the school system was originally charging the town $200 for the use of the coed basketball and volleyball programs, but agreed to waive part of that fee when he approached them with his concerns. However, they continue to charge $75 each time the indoor courts are used to pay for a custodian.

Currently, said Shields, the cost for teams to play is being paid out of recreation funds to allow them to use the courts the way they have in the past. However, in the future the cost would have to be borne by those using the facilities if the committee continues to charge for their use.

“Moving forward if it continues to be the region’s purview, I think we are going to have to look at asking adults to burden a little bit of that financial load,” he explained.

When asked by the council how the unforeseen costs were impacting the recreation budget, Shields admitted it was making things “a little bit tight.”

Councilor Walter Steere said he placed the item for discussion on the council’s docket because of that, along with other concerns.

“When you start charging like that, it creates a lot of ill will,” said Council President William Worthy.

“When you work hard and try to work together between the region and the town to try to stop some of that animosity,” added Councilor Jonathan Burlingame. “I think that needs to be understood.”

“I just had an issue with it because we are charging people who are paying the bills to use the same facilities,” said Steere. “People have played basketball up there for the past 50 years, and it hasn’t been an issue.”

Steere added that those residents using the facilities are not under the town’s jurisdiction or responsibility.

“I hope they (school committee) understand that,” he added.

Shields said that the committee has made exceptions for other groups in town, but that there had been some “for profit” groups using the facilities, which may have been the reason for the charges.

Burlingame suggested Shields go back to the Foster/Glocester Regional School Committee and ask them to look at it again.

“Hopefully, we will be able to come to a better agreement moving forward,” responded Shields.

Steere then read aloud a letter he had composed for the council to possibly forward to the committee. 

The letter stated in part that “We appreciate that some fees may have already been waived for these programs; however, we are concerned that our residents are participating in a town-funded recreational activity and are paying any fee for the use of a facility that is currently funded through their tax dollars.”

“We would appreciate an explanation for the reasoning behind the decision and ask if the charging of fees for the town recreation program can and will be reconsidered,” the letter noted.

The council voted unanimously to send the letter.

“That’s what we’re asking, and I think that’s fair,” said Steere. “It sounds like they may want to do that anyway. I hope it comes to that.”

He added that the custodian was already there until 11 p.m. Recreational use ends much earlier than that.

“They kind of indicated it was the resources they were expending,” responded Shields. “That was the reason they needed to assess us the janitorial fees.”

Steere pointed out that the town doesn’t charge for the upkeep of Little League fields and other areas available for recreational or school uses for that matter.

“I’d like to think we all can support each other,” said Council Vice President Stephen Arnold. “It sounds like everyone is working towards the same thing.”

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