Agreements to Operate Recreation Facilities: Who Owns the Building?

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Agreements to Operate Recreation Facilities: Who Owns the Building?
At the 2018 Convention of the Urban Municipal Administrators Association of Saskatchewan (UMAAS), the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association (SPRA) was invited to speak on the topic of municipal responsibility in the op­eration of recreation facilities. The biggest question to answer is ‘who owns this facility or property?’
From a historical perspective, recreation in ‘Small Town Sas­katchewan’ has been run by volunteers. Recreation Boards were formed, and the responsibility for the operation of recre­ation facilities remained with the volunteers. But is there a disconnect between Council, administration and volunteers? Not every municipality is fortunate to have a Recreation Director or Facility Manager. The Municipal Administrator or CAO has other responsibilities. Systems that functioned 30 years ago may not be the most effective means of operation today. Often the recreation volunteers are left on their own.
Today’s reality has changes in legislation that have lead to a focus on risk management with employee and volunteer safety becoming a high priority. There is an increased em­phasis on insurance and liability. Training and competence must be proven for employees and volunteers. Log books and documentation have become best practice. The Saskatch­ewan Health Authority requires a pool safety plan be approved before allowing a Municipality to operate a swimming pool. The Technical Safety Authority of Saskatchewan has stan­dards for the operation of artificial ice plants in skating arenas and curling rinks.
With the volunteer Board, it is important that Council approve a Bylaw that outlines the purpose and powers of this Board. Are there any partnering Municipalities or other organiza­tions? Council must also pass a motion regarding committee appointments that will provide these volunteers with the status of ‘agents of the municipality’. While acting on behalf of the Municipality, appointed volunteers will have the protection of municipal insurance. It is important that these volunteers are protected and know their role in the operation of a Municipal asset.
There is another scenario where the Municipality would enter into an agreement with a non profit group that may not be a committee of Council. Please be aware of the difference. In working with a registered non profit corporation, it is important that the Municipality enter in to a formal lease agreement. This lease agreement will outline the responsibilities of both the owner and operator of the facility. As owner of the facility, the Municipality cannot absolve themselves of all legal responsi­bilities by transferring operating responsibility to another entity.
The local service club that installs a playground in a Municipal Park does not own that equipment, nor has responsibility for ongoing maintenance. This land is owned by the Municipality and the asset also becomes property of the Municipality. Best practice is to work with this service club in advance to ensure that all legislative requirements for playground installation and fall protection are followed.
Another model for facility operation is the staff supervision model, where you have an Administrator or Recreation Direc­tor that will hire and supervise facility staff. There are benefits to this approach as you have trained professionals respon­sible for staff supervision and monitoring. These professionals are expected to be current and aware of changes in legisla­tion.
There are other more complicated land arrangements that could involve School Divisions, Regional Parks or Exhibition Associations. In order to proceed with an agreement, it is essential to know who owns the property and who owns the building or facility.
SPRA Field Consultants are available to meet with your Mu­nicipality and discuss options and best practices that will meet your community’s needs.
Rob Boulding
SPRA Field Consultant
This article was originally published in the Summer 2018 issue of DIRECTION magazine and has been republished with permission from the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association.