Schools play community role

By Zheng Xin ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-01-30 09:20:20

More campuses open recreational facilities to the public, but those in less-developed areas reluctant

Despite a badminton court being just a five-minute walk from home, Chen Yuze had to drive 20 minutes every weekend to a badminton court and drive back drenched in sweat.

However, this situation changed in 2012, when Dongjiang Experimental School in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, decided to open its sports facilities, including eight badminton courts, a swimming pool and outdoor facilities to the public at allocated times.

Residents in the city's Taihu new district can access the facilities in the early morning, late evening as well as during weekends and holidays.

The facilities are kept exclusively for students during the daytime, said school principal Wu Jiangning.

"It's of great convenience to have a gymnasium within walking distance, and you don't have to drive all the way just for exercise," Wu said. "To share the courts and pools with the students also boosts the efficiency of the school's sports facilities."

Due to security concerns, opening sports facilities in schools to the public has been a hot topic.

According to Wu, the school's outdoor facilities, which have been open to residents since 2009, are free of charge, whereas indoor facilities, including the badminton courts and swimming pools, which are outsourced to a third company specializing in venue management, collect admission fees lower than the market price.

"Residents have been streaming in since the facilities opened to the public," said Xie Lihua, deputy head of the subdistrict's office.

To ensure the security of the students, the government invested 600,000 yuan ($99,000) in 2012 for renovations, plus 300,000 yuan each year for the school, to cover maintenance, updates and staff management, as well as staff allocation, including security guards and cleaning staff.

The government has also provided free insurance for residents who use the venue.

The school is considering equipping the school with floodlights on the grounds, to enable outdoor exercise in the evening. Wu said the school was at first concerned about damage to its facilities, litter and people bringing pets. However, these concerns were eased after a yearlong pilot operation.

According to Wang Keqiang, deputy director of the Wuxi administration of sport, 80 percent of the city's schools, or 218, are opening their sports facilities to the public.

The bureau invested 5 million yuan each year to encourage the selected schools to share their sports facilities with the public.

However, not everyone is as lucky as the residents in Wuxi, or other cities across Jiangsu, one of the most economically developed provinces.

Despite the central government's efforts in persuading schools and campuses to open their facilities up, a few were still reluctant.

Experts said whether the schools are willing to share their sports facilities with the public has a lot to do with economic development.

"The eastern part of the country, with advanced sports facilities on their campuses, are more qualified to share resources with the public," said Lin Xianpeng, a professor who specializes in the sports industry at Beijing Sport University.

"Residents in the eastern areas also have more demand for the facilities compared with people of other regions."

However, people in western China, where the economy is less developed, can only use a few public gymnasiums, as many of the facilities in the schools are too old.

"The government can barely afford the maintenance fees," he said.

Gansu province, for example, in the northwest, can barely match the performance of provinces on the eastern coast.

"The development of sports is closely related to the region's economic performance, and it's impossible to improve athletic results overnight as Gansu's economy can't compare with that of a city in South China," Shi Shengtai, deputy director of the Gansu Provincial Administration of Sport, said.

In addition to funds from the government, Jiangsu also saw many high-quality courts built by entrepreneurs, who have invested in the area.

Sun Xiaochen contributed to this story.

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