Lindenwoods Community Centre gymnasium
By Hoops

This week, I thought I would begin an examination of the venues where basketball is played in the province - i.e. the gymnasiums. Hoops hears more and more complaints from coaches and league organizers about the increasing costs and the difficulty in getting permits for gyms, especially in Winnipeg. There is no question that there is an ever-increasing demand for gym space, not only for games, but also for regular practice times. The questions I often hear asked are...

  1. Why is the per hour rate of one school division substantially different from another? 
  2. Why do schools say that their gyms are being used when they often are not? 
  3. Why is it much simpler to book a gym in one school division than another? 
  4. Are school divisions seeing this as an area for increased revenue generation? and 
  5. Why do the two Winnipeg universities charge different rates for their gyms? 

Doing these columns has made Hoops a bit of a public pollster, a role which I have come to enjoy. Therefore, I decided to call two school divisions and ask about this subject. In short, the information I got on the phone only made me more confused and raised more questions. It appears that there is something called a "blanket permit" which most junior and senior high schools have in place, meaning that their gyms are used by their own school teams and other school events during those times, which is often 4:00 - 10:00 most weeknights. My next step was to check out two of them. I drove to two different schools one night between 7:00 and 7:30 - there actually were three, but I couldn't get into one school. I found that in the two schools I could get into the gyms were in darkness, even though, according to the division offices they were being used by school groups. I wondered, how often does this happen and are outside groups denied access even though the school is actually not using it?

Next, I did an on-line search and came up with two Winnipeg Free Press articles from April of 2011 and September of 2012 dealing with this issue. The headlines read, "School gym policies a mess" and "Ball's rolling on keeping gyms open". Both articles stated that there is a provincial government policy stating "the community paid for school gyms, so open them for the community". According to the articles, school divisions had until January 1, 2013 to comply and it was stated that "they can't make money from the rentals". I wonder - who is checking on this, as is appears all are not in compliance?

I'm not sure what, if anything, can be concluded from this. It appears to be a political issue, one in which Sport Manitoba and Basketball Manitoba may need to get involved.. It would be nice if one of our local MLAs seized this as something to be championed in an open public forum with all of the so-called stakeholders. I think we would all agree that we want school gymnasiums to be easily accessible and open as often as possible. Seeing those two gyms in darkness last week really upset me. More to come on this topic next week.

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