School Facilities Hire and COVID-19

How to optimise your use & return on capital, while ensuring safety & compliance

With the return to campus, many schools are considering how they can ensure optimum use of school facilities, while complying with social distancing requirements and hygiene obligations.

Now that restrictions are being eased, face to face teaching has resumed, and life is returning to a new “normal”, other aspects of operation of school facilities need to be considered.

This includes the hiring out of school facilities such as halls, gyms and other spaces within the school to external community groups and other users.

In short, schools can still hire out the school hall (and other facilities) to third parties, however all restrictions on activity, social distancing rules and other restrictions apply.  Importantly, these are the responsibility of the hirer, but the school also has the obligation to maintain a safe environment.

Because you owe a duty of care to students, you must conduct a risk assessment for any resumed activities on campus and have the means to terminate non-compliant arrangements.  This will likely require additional provisions in your hire terms.

To ensure compliance with the VRQA Minimum Standards relating to the operation of a school being not for profit, schools are required to have a compliant policy in place regarding the hire of its facilities to third party groups or organisations in any event.  This may also need additional provisions.

When reviewing hire terms and conditions, schools should consider matters such as:

  • Imposing responsibility on the hirer for compliance with COVID restrictions – making sure there is an agreement from the hirer to comply (more guidance on restrictions can be found here).
  • Implications of breach of COVID restrictions by the hirer.
  • Who will pay for extra cleaning, especially in the case of a positive test being returned by someone who attended the school as part of a third party group and deep cleaning being required before the facilities can be used.
  • Whether there is a liability risk for the school if an attendee contracts COVID at the event
  • All other usual requirements including child safety.

You also need to consider time between multiple events (one hour for dispersal and cleaning), so scheduling is important.

In addition to the above relating to indoor facilities, on and from 11.59pm on 21 June 2020, guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) states that schools may approve the use of outdoor facilities on school property for the purpose of sport and recreation by community sporting clubs and groups if the following conditions are met.

  • Any community sporting club or group using school facilities must agree to comply with current (DHHS) advice (as amended from time to time) in relation to sport and exercise, including the type(s) of activity permitted and the maximum number of participants.
  • Physical distancing must be maintained at all times, regardless of participant age.
  • Compliance with current DHHS advice is required, regardless of any pre-existing or previous arrangements agreed with a community sporting club or group.
  • Only one group of participants is permitted to use a single facility at a time (e.g. basketball court or oval).
  • Facilities should not be made available for use by a community sporting group if physical distancing (at least 1.5 metres apart) cannot be maintained, for example because of the size of the facility or the facility’s proximity to other facilities that are or will be in use.
  • If multiple sessions will be run back to back, there must be a break of at least 15 minutes between each session to avoid congregation of multiple groups on a school site. For this reason, participants must also be advised that they must not arrive prior to their scheduled start time or remain after the scheduled end time.
  • School facilities cannot be used by local sporting clubs or community groups within 30 minutes of the start or end of the school day. This is to avoid unnecessary mixing with other members of the school community.
  • Access to outdoor facilities should be arranged so that participants do not encounter any staff or students remaining on the school premises, for example, for out-of-hours school care programs.
  • Changing room facilities cannot be used (except for toilets). Where toilets are used, they must be cleaned prior to the next school day.
  • Any sporting equipment that is property of the school cannot be used. Community and sporting groups should use their own equipment, and this should be maintained in accordance with DHHS advice.
  • A register of indoviduals in attendance at each session must be kept by the community group and provided to the school. This should include individuals’ name, contact phone number, and dates and times they were present.
  • In the event of a confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the school community, all access to school facilities must immediately cease while contact tracing and cleaning of the school premises is undertaken, on the advice of the DHHS.

When hiring out its facilities, a school needs to be able to clearly articulate its requirements, ensure those requirements are incorporated as terms and conditions of hire, and make it clear that failure to comply will result in termination of arrangements with non-compliant hirers.  

Ultimately, schools need to be able to manage the risk of having outside parties use its facilities and must be able to ensure that those facilities continue to be safe for use by its students.

How we can help

If you need assistance with preparing new or updated terms and conditions for facilities hire, please do not hesitate to contact us.