Limited community access to Helms Middle sports fields planned

Pilot program to offer community access to Helms Middle sports fields
A pilot program will provide limited community access to the sports fields at Helms Middle School via the San Pablo Community Center. (Image credit: City of San Pablo)

San Pablo City Council on Monday approved a 32-week pilot program allowing long-desired community access to the sports fields at Helms Middle School.

The city is working with the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) on the proposal allowing access Monday-Friday from 6 p.m. till 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 5 p.m. pm till 8 p.m. beginning in August through the end of October, and re-opening again in March 2020 and running through June 30, 2020.

San Pablo has committed about $15,000 to pay for the pilot program, which, if successful, could be extended, according to San Pablo city staff.

The pilot project would allow residents to access the football field, soccer fields, track, basketball courts and other amenities of the fields. The entire property, including where the community center is located, belongs to the the school district.

During those non-school hours, safe access to the fields will be provided through the community center, according to city staff.

Campus safety has been at the center of why the community hasn’t been able to use the fields, city staff says. Gates providing access to the community have been kept shut in order to keep visitors from intermingling with children in physical education classes or after school programs. The locked gates haven’t stopped some community members from crawling under or hopping over fences to gain access to the fields, city staff said.

The solution, staff said, was to identify a way to safely gain access to the sports amenities. That led to the proposal for limited access during non-school hours using the community center’s front and back entrances.

Some community members say it’s about time. San Pablo Mayor Rich Kinney said voters approved a property tax that promised access to school-built facilities such as Helms Middle, which was rebuilt in 2010. The mayor said community access to the property was part of discussions during early meetings about the San Pablo Community Center. The city paid for the construction of the center, which opened in 2014, and the district leases use of the property to the city for $1 in perpetuity. In those early discussions about the site, the school district and city talked about sharing cost for community access to the fields, Kinney said.

“We were always promised from Day 1 that we would have access to the black top and the basketball courts behind the Community Center,” Mayor Kinney said.

It’s the reason high fences were installed to wall off access to the school, he said.

The mayor said he approved the pilot program Monday because he wants access for the community, but added that the fight should continue for the right of city taxpayers to use the fields at no cost.