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Schools for rent? Districts have different rules

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Community groups or businesses that want to use space in Center Grove schools can reserve some of the school district’s facilities for free, depending on who the members or organizers are.

In 2013, Center Grove allowed more than 30 groups to use seven of its eight schools for activities such as meetings and fundraisers. Fifteen of those groups paid from $70 to more than $1,700 to use the facilities one or multiple times, while others paid nothing.

The rental fees Center Grove charges aren’t always consistent.

The Wakefield Homeowners Association, for example, which has used a large-group instruction room at Sugar Grove Elementary School for the past two years, was charged $147.50 each year for the rental. The Willow Lakes Homeowners Association used space at Center Grove Middle School Central and wasn’t charged anything, although the group probably should have paid something, according to a Center Grove building rental report compiled by school officials.

Center Grove employees who run businesses, such as tutoring or swimming lessons, or who need space for other activities, can use the schools for free if they receive the principal’s permission, according to school board policy and assistant superintendent Bill Long.

That includes fitness coach Marty Mills, a Center Grove strength and conditioning coach whose job is to get athletes in shape. He operates a business, School of Strength kettlebell gym, at Center Grove High School without paying rent to the school district. Mills could not be reached for comment.

“That’s just the way the board policy is written,” Long said.

Center Grove officials regularly review policies, and administrators now are taking a look at the rental policies to see if any changes need to be made. That review is expected to be completed early this year, Long said.

Across Johnson County, nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses and groups usually can find space at area schools for meetings and events, as most school districts want to keep their buildings open to associations and clubs. Opening the buildings for community members and businesses to use lets the public use the schools they’ve paid for, while some school districts also see rental fees as a potential revenue source.

Between January and November, Center Grove collected nearly $10,000 in rent from groups using its facilities. Edinburgh collected the least of all local school districts, at $20, and Franklin collected $224,000.

The rental fees groups pay, which are agreed upon by school administrators and school board members, will vary depending on where they’re renting. School officials want to ensure that schools aren’t losing money, especially in paying for utilities and cleaning, because of groups or people renting gyms, auditoriums and classrooms after school hours.

Most school districts want to keep their schools open for community members and groups to use, and they don’t expect to turn a profit renting their buildings to residents or businesses. Franklin schools is the exception. The district has a full-time employee who markets the high school’s 918-seat performing arts center, with the goal of bringing in at least $200,000 per year. In 2013, the performing arts center rentals brought in about $147,000, part of which is used to support student plays and other performing arts productions.

Deciding who pays varies by school district. Franklin, Clark-Pleasant and Greenwood schools have policies splitting renters into three groups, which typically helps determine whether they’ll be charged to use the buildings, as well as how much.

The first two groups include school-affiliated organizations and community or nonprofit clubs, such as PTO committees and Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops. These typically aren’t charged rent unless they’ll be using buildings on weekends or late into the evening, when custodians typically aren’t working and when lights, air conditioning or heat are turned down. In those cases, groups could be charged the cost of keeping the building open and paying overtime.

The third group includes businesses and for-profit organizations.

At Clark-Pleasant, school officials updated their rental policy over the summer to clarify how much businesses and for-profit organizations are charged. Those rental fees run between $30 and $50 per hour, along with any utility and custodial fees needed to cover costs, Clark-Pleasant business office director Jay Staley said.

The decision about whether a group can rent a building is made by the school’s principal, but principals cannot decide whether a group will be charged rent. He said the school district’s updated policy requires that, if the renter is a business or for-profit group, they must be charged.

“We wanted to make sure we were able to offer the facility space to our community members at a reasonable rate but also make sure we were maintaining our facilities,” Staley said.

How it’s done

Here’s a look at the rental policies for local school districts:

Center Grove: Buildings can be used for school-related activities, as well as by other community organizations or individual groups, including nonprofit and for-profit organizations

The decision about whether a group must pay rent is left up to the building principal.

Clark-Pleasant, Franklin, Greenwood, Edinburgh, Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools: Organizations typically fall into one of three groups — school-related, nonprofit or for-profit. Organizations in the first two groups typically aren’t charged rent, though they could be charged a custodial or utility fee if they’re using the building late at night or on the weekend. Businesses or other for-profit organizations are usually charged a rental fee.

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