The sound of the final horn blares, the scoreboard shows time has expired, and the cheers from the crowd erupt on this rainy evening. Within minutes, spectators start to move toward the exit; however, all eyes focus on an older gentleman in the bleachers as he quickly catches himself from falling down the stairs as the slippery bleacher railing wobbles from loosened bolts.
Fortunately, there is no emergency on this night, but the cause of this near accident raises concerns on the part of the school’s administrators, athletic directors and coaches. Are we doing everything we can in a purposeful way to lessen the risk of injury?
On any given day, high schools around the nation host a variety of athletic and cocurricular activities. Many of these events have already identified needs in terms of security, personnel, weather contingencies and even emergency evacuation procedures. Considering all of these elements is important to host a successful event, but there also must be purposeful and ongoing facility evaluation to minimize the risk of injury for all stakeholders.
To maximize the safety of school facilities, leaders must identify and understand the uniqueness of each facility, identify and confirm that issues have been solved, and share expectations with staff, students and spectators so everyone can enjoy school events.
Create a Checklist for Each Facility
Each athletic and performing arts venue has variables that need regular review for safety. Some venues may have unique seating arrangements, spaces that need additional lighting, or even building locations in an area of campus that is not immediately visible from the school parking lot. Students and staff may be familiar with the uniqueness of their home campus, but school leaders must work to create a safe and welcoming environment for everyone. Guests to the campus may not have institutional familiarity and their safety also needs to be a priority.
To address facility safety, leaders can create checklists, which help various stakeholders identify areas of need. For instance, an athletic director could schedule a facility walk-through with a group of coaches with a common goal of listing all possible items to check for safety. These items could be as basic as light switches and fixtures to something as specific as electrical outlet covers or water faucet handles. Extensive checklists do take some time to develop, but when completed they become easily shareable and more stakeholders can take ownership.
Once checklists are complete, athletic directors can then gather information and share with the administrative team and maintenance department so that items in need of attention are quickly addressed. To further enhance the accuracy and accountability of checklists, they should be comprehensive, regularly reviewed and time-stamped for recordkeeping so that personnel who run facilities can maintain high levels of safety.
Identify and Review Recorded Solutions
Undoubtedly, there will be some concerns found through the checklist process that may not be immediately fixed. For instance, one unlit light fixture in a multi-purpose room may not reach a safety need to postpone an event. In addition, an immediate replacement may not be possible if the room is utilized for the school day, multiple practices and after-school community meetings.
These types of repairs can be completed on weekends or breaks as best fit the needs of a school; however, keeping a current record of what needs to be addressed allows administration and maintenance to schedule appropriate times for repair.
In an ideal world, reported issues are quickly addressed; however, to increase accountability it is important to keep accurate records of when a concern is first identified and then set reminders to verify if an issue is successfully remedied. When leaders accept the responsibility of follow-through on safety issues, they demonstrate visual ownership and establish a high quality of care. After all, a checklist is only a piece of paper if it is not regularly reviewed for accuracy and then further reviewed to see if issues have been solved.
In the daily task of running athletics and activities programs, it is easy to become focused on addressing immediate facility issues, but good facility management also needs to include vision. Just as coaches need to engage in long, multi-year planning for uniform and equipment replacements, leaders need to look at facilities with a similar longitudinal approach.
For example, in the aforementioned scenario, a spectator nearly falls when he realizes he has grabbed onto a slippery and loose railing. Altruistically, the spectator may report it as he leaves, but the responsibility falls on school leaders to regularly examine the status of all facilities and properly plan for their life cycles and replacements if needed.
Checklist items such as bleachers, bleacher railings, basketball backboard cabling and motors, safety padding, field turf, and even chain-link fencing should be examined annually to determine working order and if replacements are needed. These types of capital materials can be quite expensive, but without regular review, schools could be forced to cancel events for reasons including faulty basketball backboard motor operation, unsafe playing turf or warped stage flooring that reveals trip hazards.
At a minimum, these types of scenarios can be tremendously embarrassing, but more importantly they could cause injury to students who would lose the opportunity to participate in home events and open potential liability lawsuits for a school and district.
Engaging Everyone as a Part of Facilities
No individual administrator can create a perfectly safe environment, but one administrator can create an environment where facilities are valued and kept to high safety standards. An important part of facility management is making sure that everyone understands that they play a role in safety. Just as coaches hold athletes to high levels of sportsmanship to serve as examples of behavior for the community, school leaders can and should encourage coaches and students to be accountable for helping report any facility issues that need attention.
School leaders must also be transparent in their facility work. For instance, checklists can be updated, saved and posted digitally so that coaches can review and even share them with their students, who can help identify facility issues.
Regardless of whether a coach or student helps in verifying safety solutions, school leaders need to create time to review past reports to see whether concerns have been appropriately addressed. When students and staff see school leaders care about facility safety, it creates a recursive circle of responsibility that allows everyone to have safe events, maintain high quality standards and help shape plans for future facility improvements.
Dr. Steve Amaro, CMAA, is an assistant principal at Freedom High School in Oakley, California. He previously was an English content coach, athletic director and tennis coach for the school. He is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.