You couldn’t blame the two women who comprise the Brookfield Recreation Department for feeling unwanted. Physically isolated down in their small office in the basement of the Brookfield Village Hall, they’ve also been a hot potato of sorts in terms of who they report to.
Fifteen years ago, the department was headed by a director and operated more or less autonomously. When the last director, Cathy Colgrass Edwards, was let go the position was never filled.
Mary Pezdek, who was hired in 1995 as the department’s program coordinator, took on a lead role within the department and at one time was an interim director. For many of those years, she has worked alongside Arlene Rovner, who handles special event planning and execution. And apart from some part-time help on and off over the years, the duo effectively has served as the entire department.
But in 2007, the Recreation Department was placed under the supervision of the Department of Public Works. Two years later, the department was back reporting to the assistant village manager, until being bounced back to public works in 2012.
But as of Feb. 1, according to Village Manager Keith Sbiral, recreation is reporting again to the village manager’s office — and it’ll stay that way. It’s part of an effort, he said, to emphasize recreation and its importance as a tool for community and economic development.
“I think it has been a frustrating time,” said Sbiral, regarding the rec department’s past orphan status. “The key thing in this budget year is the board wanted to bolster recreation offerings and special events.”
Since 2008, Brookfield has completed significant improvements to both of its major parks, Jaycee/Ehlert and Kiwanis. Sbiral said that it made sense at that time for public works to have a greater role in supervising recreation, because of the maintenance aspect.
Now that the improvements have been made, he said, it’s time to showcase the parks through programming and special events.
Pezdek said the department is working on introducing summer outdoor volleyball leagues to take advantage of the new sand courts in Kiwanis Park. The annual summer concert series may feature more prominent acts at the new band shell in the park.
“We want to get people out into the parks more to showcase what we’ve got,” Pezdek said.
The village’s Special Events Commissions and newly engaged Parks and Recreation Commission will have key roles in providing guidance for those efforts, said Sbiral, reaching out to groups like the Brookfield Chamber of Commerce to expand offerings.
Within the next few weeks, Sbiral also is expected to hire the village’s first community and economic development director, who will serve as the No. 2 administrator inside village hall, with a primary focus on the building department and economic development.
That person, said Sbiral, will be the primary contact for the Brookfield Recreation Department.
“They’ll become part of what we’re doing with economic development outreach,” said Sbiral. “With community development being part of the village manager’s office, it makes more sense.”
As part of the effort to bolster recreation, the village board also included an additional half-time position for recreation in the 2015 budget. In the meantime, Pezdek said the department will continue to try to get the word out to residents about new program registration software that allows people to sign up for Brookfield recreation programs online.
“I do see this as a step in a different direction,” Pezdek said.
Pezdek and Sbiral said the process of refocusing on where recreation fits in the scheme of village services and the budget is still evolving. But both agree that the plan is to give the department more prominence than it’s had in more than a decade.
“Keith is taking it slow and getting a better sense of what we do and what we need to do to keep moving forward,” Pezdek said. “As the months go on, there will be further discussion to see where we want to go.
“I’m happy to take on whatever they want me to do.”