By Dave Rogers
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Non-school organizations looking to use school facilities may have to dig deeper into their pockets as school officials are looking to revamp its longstanding facility rental policy.
School Superintendent Dr. Marc Kerble recently announced his desire to form an ad-hoc committee over the summer to potentially revise and restructure the current policy. The committee would include representatives from the community, School Committee members and a custodian.
It’s a proposal that has the backing of School Committee members who, at its last meeting, expressed a desire to be part of any such committee.
“The whole goal is to realize revenue if possible,” School Committee member Daniel Koen said.
Kerble said it has been at least seven years and maybe as long as a decade since the district gave a hard look into its rental policy. Since that time, use of athletic fields, school auditoriums, gyms, classrooms and other facilities have increased substantially turning the current fee structure into a likely money loser for the schools.
“I feel we have to take a look at it because the impact on our custodians is enormous,” Kerble said.
Kerble added that fee increases could also add much needed revenue to the school department’s bottom line. Once formed, the ad-hoc committee would be charged with creating a marketing campaign to justify higher fees and looking at usage fees employed by other communities.
“The whole thing needs to be looked at,” Kerble said.
Currently, it costs non-local organizations $100 an hour to use any of the department’s fields. Local for-profit groups are charged $75 per hour while the fee for local non-profits is $50 per hour. Use of a school auditorium is $850 for non-local groups, local for-profits must pay $750 while the fee for local non-profits is $500. Use of a school gymnasium costs $50 an hour for local non-profits, $75 an hour for local for-profit groups and $100 for non-local groups.
Activities run by civic, service, educational and charitable organizations and individuals when a fee or admission is charged must pay a fee. For-profit organizations, regardless if they charge admission must also pay a fee. Employee-sponsored or employee-run programs benefiting local students which a fee is based and for which the employee or person performing the service is paid would be charged an hourly fee based on fee schedule with a cap of $1,000.
All school-sponsored and school-related activities; activities that benefit the city’s youth when no admission fee is charged; and activities run by civic, service, educational and charitable organizations to benefit the community when no fee or admission is charged, can use school facilities without being charged, according to the school district’s facility use policy.
Among the organizations which depend on school fields is the Newburyport Youth Soccer Association (NYSA). More than 1,000 children ages 3 to 14 are part of the league which plays its games and conducts practices at Cashman Park by the Merrimack River, Cherry Hill soccer fields off Daniel Lucey Way and the city-owned Fuller Field off Low Street near Nock Middle School. NYSA’s season begins the third week in August and goes through November. After a winter break the league resumes in March and goes until June.
NYSA president Matthew McDermott said the league could absorb a nominal increase. But a more substantial hike could prompt league organizers to reevaluate its use of Fuller Field. Already, the league spends thousands of dollars doing its part to maintain Fuller Field, McDermott added.
McDermott said it has always been the policy of the organization to keep its league fees as affordable as possible.
“A fee increase would certainly affect that,” he said.
But McDermott stressed that even without a fee increase, the league would someday likely consolidate its operations to Cherry Hill and Cashman parks as more children join the league. In three years, enrollment jumped 20 percent prompting a fee increase in 2011. A look at the NYSA’s field schedule via its website shows that only a small portion of practices and games are held at Fuller Field.