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City of Merced – Partnering to Provide Physical Activity Through Joint Use

Case Story

In the wake of a housing boom that left residents with little park space to play, joint-use partnerships in Merced have increased residents’ opportunities to be active by sharing athletic courts and fields, pools, gymnasiums and other spaces that facilitate activity.

Community: City of Merced (Merced County)

Population: 80,542


A population growth spurt in the early 90’s left the residents of Merced without adequate parks and recreation facilities. Joint-use agreements allowed the City of Merced and the Merced High School District and Merced City School District to develop a partnership that continues to provide residents, students, and community groups with places to gather and be active. The partnership has grown beyond standard joint use facility agreements. The city and the school district collaborate on grant opportunities, work to revitalize blighted facilities, and develop new recreational spaces for the enjoyment and benefit of all.

Health Connection

The majority of children and adults in the U.S. do not get the recommended daily amount of physical activity. Increasing rates of disease related to inactivity, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease, adversely impact quality of life, increase health care costs, and can be prevented.

Program Highlights

  • Joint-use agreements fulfilled an immediate need for recreation facilities
  • City and District partnership led to an improved culture of collaboration and grew to include the local university, non-profits, senior centers, and youth sports leagues
  • Redevelopment of blighted facilities and fund matching to build new facilities expanded the partnership’s reach during lean times to improve residents’ health and safety

Lessons Learned

  • Joint-use partnerships are most successful when staff of partnering agencies work together, providing the creativity and effort necessary to address the needs of all audiences.
  • Putting the time in to create good working relationships is essential to building momentum and consensus to address and resolve the sensitive aspects of these agreements.
  • It’s important that the relationships that have been cultivated among agencies be protected and respected. Sometimes this requires that one party say no when it seems a request will stretch the bounds of the established agreement.

Resources to Learn More

The Rest of the Story…


A growth spurt during the early 90’s increased Merced’s population and housing supply and disrupted the balance that had existed between residents, and the number of schools and parks. Public input alerted the city to a growing demand for soccer fields and lunchtime and after school play areas for students. Because of this shared demand, the school district and city saw a joint use partnership as the obvious solution to an immediate need. In 1993, the school district and city signed a compact allowing local elementary schools to use city facilities, while granting community residents access to school facilities both before and after school when available.

Prompted by another population spurt in the early 2000’s, a formal needs assessment was conducted in 2001. The assessment found the residents of Merced had a significant need for more recreational programs and facilities. At the same time, the public was making it clear that they wanted investments to go to the creation of more bike paths and parks. Immediately the city and school district began talks to address the community’s need. They entered into an expanded agreement with local youth sports leagues to jointly share and maintain the facilities of four middle schools. This partnership allowed for the joint use of gymnasiums, athletic fields, and basketball courts.

Applicability to Other Communities

Merced’s City-District partnership demonstrates the possibilities that arise when communities leverage their often limited financial and staff resources thoughtfully. Investing time and effort into community relationships and partnerships provides a strong foundation for accomplishing both immediate and long-term goals towards improved community health.

Compiled August 2009

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