Proposals for community use of educational buildings in Aberdeenshire outlined
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Plans to establish community access guidance for the use of educational facilities in Aberdeenshire have been laid out.
The local authority's communities committee met online on Thursday and assessed the proposals.
In the report from the council's team manager for governance and empowerment, Karen Tucker, it was outlined that academies in communities are established as the main site for access in each area.
She said: "The presumption will always be in favour of granting the let request where it does not impact adversely on the operation of the facilities within each cluster and this will be achieved through network programming.
"The council has a wide range of educational, recreational and sporting facilities which can be used to meet a variety of community needs.
"Facilities which can be utilised include but are not limited to sport pitches; school halls or gymnasiums; classrooms; home economics (HE) classrooms, computing classrooms and workshop facilities.
"The access arrangements for the use of educational establishments requires a balanced approach to be taken to meet the needs of community groups requiring access to facilities against the service requirement to effectively manage costs against a background of diminishing resources.
"The aim is to meet community needs in a cost-effective way whilst ensuring groups can positively contribute towards key objectives as agreed in the Cultural Strategy and the Sports and Physical Activity Strategy."
The set hours and days will be mirrored across education and Live Life Aberdeenshire (LLA) facilities.
The team manager added: "Although the presumption will always be towards finding a solution and arranging a booking, the pricing structure established to allow use of these premises outwith traditional opening hours will follow the Corporate Charging Framework.
"As such the service will charge the end user on the basis of full cost recovery. All bookings, whilst not generating a profit, need to be within budget to the council.
"There may be some instances where it is uneconomical to open an establishment and in those instances the request would be refused."
The report outlines that the guidelines are intended to be flexible so local needs can be met. This flexibility could include varying charges, and this will be considered as part of the charging review.
The team manager said: "The following fictitious town scenario is a possibility for the future access arrangements: ‘Stonehead’ is a small rural town that has an academy and four primary schools.
"Other facilities in the town include a family centre, a hall and a library. Local villages contain a variety of primary schools and village halls.
"All facilities have spaces available for booking on an online system that can be accessed through the Aberdeenshire Council website, linked with the LLA booking area.
"The site shows clear information including pricing, special offers and discounts, classes available, availability and booking information, with a telephone/email helpline to assist users with queries.
"Caretaker support is available to open and monitor sites from the academy and larger primary schools. Head teachers undertake keyholder responsibilities for their own after school access without the need for caretakers, and community access is enabled through local keyholders, where this is practical, particularly significant for more remote locations, through procedures set up to ensure security is maintained."
The report added that the charging policy for community use will be common to both education and children's services and Live Life Aberdeenshire establishments and will be agreed and combined during the next charging review due to commence in 2020/21.
Issues related to Covid-19 were also outlined including the requirement to expand the number of spaces used to accommodate social distancing. It was highlighted the economic impact may mean the council cannot afford to do this on every occasion.
There may also be a requirement for the cleaning costs to be factored into charging rates to facilitate the use of spaces.
Committee chairwoman councillor Anne Stirling said: "There needs to be a level playing field for community groups accessing the buildings.
"We must make sure there is no duplication of services and there is equality for community access."
The committee agreed to approve the community access guidelines for the use of educational facilities.