Playing Smart: A New Guide to Help Communities Open Schoolyards Link copied!

March 13, 2012

Washington, D.C.

We’ve never needed safe play spaces in our communities more than we do now.

Nearly a third of kids and adolescents in America – and two-thirds of adults – are overweight or obese. Many are urged to get more exercise but can’t follow this advice very easily where they live. Walking and bicycling are dangerous on roads designed for cars. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in five children live within walking distance of a park or playground.

That’s where Playing Smart: Maximizing the Potential of School and Community Property Through Joint Use Agreements comes in. This new toolkit was developed to help school staff and other community leaders craft and implement joint use agreements, whether they’re new to the prospect of joint use or looking to institutionalize an informal arrangement long under way.

Playing Smart is a nuts-and-bolts guide to opening school property to the public, complete with model agreement language and success stories from communities around the country. It also provides a comprehensive overview of the most common ways to finance these arrangements, and guidance on how to overcome obstacles that may arise in negotiating and enforcing a joint use agreement.

“Joint use is one of the most promising strategies for bringing more opportunities for play and physical activity to kids across the country,” says Darell Hammond, Founder and CEO of KaBOOM!. “This national toolkit is a significant resource to help communities maximize the resources that already exist.”

Schools have all kinds of exercise facilities – indoor gyms, soccer fields, tracks, basketball courts, even playgrounds and swimming pools. But when the school day ends, these spaces are often locked to students and the rest of the neighborhood. 

School districts have reasons for keeping these spaces closed after hours. They’re concerned about security. They’re afraid of getting sued if someone gets hurt. They can’t afford to pay for extra maintenance, especially in today’s economic climate.

Communities around the country are resolving these issues through what’s known as a joint use agreement: a written contract between a school district and, usually, a city agency, spelling out a formal arrangement that lets the two share the costs and responsibilities.

Joint use agreements are making an impact all over the country:

  • In Boston – where many schoolyards were paved over in the 1950s when city leaders realized it would save maintenance costs – joint use agreements have helped reclaim more than 130 acres of asphalt, transforming schoolyards into vibrant new spaces for play and learning.
  • In Niagara Falls, NY, joint use agreements were essential in creating a state-of-the-art basketball park and incorporating valuable community programming, including a nationally recognized mentorship program for kids.
  • In Mississippi – recently named the most obese state in the nation – a new statewide joint use program has provided school districts with resources for play equipment and other improvements while helping to ease school administrators’ reservations about liability and vandalism. 

Although many communities informally agree to share facilities, a well-crafted joint use agreement can help things go smoothly – from coordinating scheduling and staffing to handling maintenance and the possibility of injury.

Download this new toolkit today at

Playing Smart was produced through a partnership between KaBOOM! and the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Children Obesity, a project of Public Health Law & Policy.