For the second time in recent months, members of Brookfield’s Playgrounds and Recreation Commission have nibbled at the idea of the village building its own recreation center. The subject comes with one unfortunate problem. There is no money for such a project.
To put a finer point on it, there will never be enough money for it, until Brookfield begins seriously considering what is the future of its Recreation Department. Will it continue to be a small department appended to village hall? Or will the Recreation Department become an independent Park District, capable of maintaining (and maintaining control over) its parks and providing the kinds of recreation programs that residents expect?
Until that basic question is answered, it seems to us that the issue of a recreation center is premature. Given the state of the village’s finances, it is highly unlikely that funds for such a rec center will be secured from that source.
And since the Playgrounds and Recreation Commission has no power to push any agenda it might have (it’s strictly an advisory commission), it’s going to take a powerful amount of persuasion to get any village board to jump on the recreation center bandwagon. That’s unlikely to happen.
It’s unlikely to happen especially in light of the fact that the village has failed to staff the Recreation Department fully since 2003. After Catherine Colgrass Edwards left as Recreation Director in 2003, the village never replaced her.
The village has 1.5 employees taking care of the recreation programming in the village. The only full-time employee has been on extended sick leave recently, leaving the department staffed by a part-time employee and whatever other help they can muster. That’s no way to run a Recreation Department that is charged with serving 19,000 people. Brookfield can, and should, do better than that.
Before talking further about a recreation center, the Playgrounds and Recreation Commission ought to really begin trying to chart its future course?”by considering the formation of a park district. If Brookfield is going to have its parks and Recreation Department stay free from the political influence of the village board, an independent park district has to be part of the answer.
It will be no easy task, and there will have to be a significant amount of leadership from the commission to not only research the feasibility of a park district but to sell the idea to residents and members of the village board, who will be the ones responsible for putting it on a ballot.
At the very least, we’d like to see the village begin to pay more attention to the needs of the Recreation Department and residents who benefit from their programs. If the village would like the Rec Department to continue offering programs and special events for the village, they could at least give them enough personnel to get the job done.
And if the village doesn’t want to be saddled with the burden of staffing a department and what are likely to be expensive improvements, especially at Ehlert Park, in the future, then they should work in partnership with the Playgrounds and Recreation Commission to get a conversation about the creation of a park district started.