City community center: Free to them, fee for us
August 6, 2007 6:43 PM   Subscribe

Can a public community center charge a private daycare for space that is free to the public?

I work for a privately owned summer school and daycare center. Each day, for the past several weeks, we have been taking our 30-40 students to an indoor gym at the local community center, which is free to all minors (adults pay $2). Initially, the staff at the community center were fine with our kids spending an hour a day there. Last week, however, they decided that since we are a for-profit organization, we must pay $1 a day per child. Understanding that we do take over most of the gym while we are there, I asked if we could bring a smaller number of kids to the gym to avoid charge, and they said no.

Do they have a right to charge our kids because they are under our supervision? The community center is government run by the parks and recreation department. Public parks and libraries don't charge us for free public space and services. I do realize that public centers charge private parties for reservations and room rentals, but would the community center be justified in charging us to bring in, say, 10 children for an hour a day to share the gym with everyone else?
posted by mikelly to Law & Government (14 answers total)
I would have a conversation with the director of the local "parks and recreation department" as opposed to talking to the staff of the specific center.

I'm guessing that they are well within their rights to charge whatever they want, the question becomes what is politically acceptable to the department, and that decision will be made at a higher level.

Personal opinion: If you're bringing in 30 to 40 kids, that's a huge load on the facility, and probably keeps others from using it. They may be attempting to discourage you. The other question is, are the young folks you're bringing part of the target population of the center, if not, that may be an issue for them.

I hope this all works out...truth is, all of you want to serve people, it may just take some negotiation....
posted by HuronBob at 6:49 PM on August 6, 2007

Yes. You are wildly exceeding the average use of the centre (how many parents take their kids to the centre everyday?) and reaping a profit to boot. Also I bet if you pursue this you'll find that someone(s) complained which is why the change in policy or enforcement.
posted by Mitheral at 6:56 PM on August 6, 2007

Also you might find if you start enquiring that you need a permit and/or pay a fee to use facilities like playgrounds, beaches and parks. Most places assess these fees/permits to groups as a method of asserting control over greater than average usage. Even if that usage isn't commercial. This is why you often need to get a permit to have a wedding or wedding photos in public parks.
posted by Mitheral at 6:59 PM on August 6, 2007

Yes. They have no responsibility to provide your for-profit venture with their resources. You are placing a drain on those resources that exceeds (dramatically) that of the 'average' user that the facility caters to.

Think about those signs that say "we reserve the right to X"... they don't owe you anything, and if you are disrupting their operations they can take whatever measures are required to restore the balance.
posted by foobario at 7:04 PM on August 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

You are a for-profit entity making use of a public facility. They are well within their right to charge you a reasonable fee to cover the costs of operating a public service. Otherwise, every business in America would set up their employees at desks in libraries and schools instead of renting office space.
posted by unccivil at 7:08 PM on August 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

I can see the gym wanting to shut down after being overwhelmed, but it's something you should be able to negotiate with the head of Parks and Rec. If all your kids are residents and would be allowed access with their parents for free, than it doesn't seem that they have cause to charge you.

My kids have gone to the library many times with their daycare, this really isn't different. But I think the time of the visit and the number of kids attending needs to be formalized with someone higher up. If they still balk, then bring it up at a town meeting, city council, etc.
posted by saffry at 7:19 PM on August 6, 2007

I think if you are overloading the facility. Yes. They can charge.
However if your offer to reduce the children and the time allowed would bring your usage into a more normal spectrum than you should be free to use the facility.

I'm sure there are nannys that take kids there. They are "for profit" are they not?

Seems to me the real issue (at least the only one that could be considered legit) is the capacity you are using.

Follow through with Director, not the low level grunts.

Good luck.

posted by crewshell at 7:20 PM on August 6, 2007

I think you're pretty much stretching the common-sense definition of "free to the public" to the snapping point.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 7:24 PM on August 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

saffry writes "If all your kids are residents and would be allowed access with their parents for free, than it doesn't seem that they have cause to charge you. "

Except they would probably collect a greater proportion of adult fees per child (1:2-3) than they collect from the day care (1:8? 1:10? 1:12?)
posted by Mitheral at 7:33 PM on August 6, 2007

Having worked at a non-profit community center, and having dealt with private day cares taking advantage of our generosity and begging our boss to charge them, I'd say that YES they are within their rights.

You're there, it means someone else isn't. Often, smaller groups leave when larger groups take over.

You cause wear and tear on facilities and resources, and they have to clean up after you. (Bathrooms and whatnot, I mean.)

Lastly, you are part of an organization that is MAKING MONEY WHILE YOU ARE THERE. Basically, you're taking advantage of someone's generosity to make money w/o having to actually *do* anything.

These places aren't generally sponsored by tax dollars, and even if they are---private groups are often charged for use of facilities. Especially so if there is any climate control.

Beyond that, if I found out that my day care (and how much do you charge for a full time kid, ~$900 a month or so?) was only taking my kid to a local free gym on my dime I'd be a little nonplussed---especially considering you're calling it a "Daycamp." If you were at a park, or in a field or something, that might be different.
posted by TomMelee at 7:33 PM on August 6, 2007

How many adults accompany the 40 children? I can't imagine what happens when you show up with 40 kids in the public library.

Charge you? Yes. Groups of that size using public property and parks are often required to get a permit.
posted by 26.2 at 7:59 PM on August 6, 2007

Why don't you try to work out some kind of reduced group rate with the director?
posted by sic at 2:28 AM on August 7, 2007

People and community centers are happy to offer a service to the public (which by the way, you are not "the public", even if your charges are). It's when you take advantage that they start having to make up rules like $1/kid/day. And then you continue to try to take advantage by circumventing the policy via bringing less kids! This is particularly bad if your plan is to bring 10 at a time 3-4 times a day (which is how I read it).

30-40 kids is a significant load on any public facility; I'm shocked they put up with it for so long and even more shocked that you're balking at the additional $30-40 per day for what amounts to facility rental. Your best bet is to arrange a set time each day for facility use and pay for it. Then it's "yours", they can notify the community and receive reimbursal for your load on the facility and "blackout" time. You could probably try to negotiate something lower than $40/day, maybe $125-150/week?

Disclosure: I was once a CIT at a community-center-housed day camp (fee-based, but don't know if they were private or not, too young to care at the time). 30-40 kids in a gym at once is a zoo. We had pre-arranged usage times for the gym, pool, etc.
posted by ml98tu at 9:49 AM on August 7, 2007

IANAL, but the first thing that popped into my mind is that the center is trying to establish that the kids are under the daycare's care for liability purposes. That way if something happens, let's say a kid falls and hits his head and is seriously injured, a lawyer could argue that the daycare would be financially responsible instead of the center because the daycare staff were being paid to watch the kid. A paid receipt is a legal document essentially implying that these particular kids are under the care of the daycare.
posted by vignettist at 12:44 PM on August 7, 2007

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