A Q&A with ... Gerry Lombardo
FAIRFIELD — He may have started out planning to be a school teacher, but a change in Gerry Lombardo’s plans turned out to be good thing for the town.
Lombardo, who first worked as Parks and Recreation director for the town of Southbury, came to take on that job here in May of 1987. After 29 years, Lombardo will retire on Oct. 31.
During his tenure, youth soccer exploded, and waiting in lines to register for a program or get a beach sticker, became a thing of the past. Playing fields were added all over town and recreational facilities upgraded. Lombardo recently sat down to answer some questions about his job.
Q: Why did you choose managing recreation as a career?
A: I was always involved in sports and enjoyed working with people. I entered college planning to major in education and be a physical education teacher. At the time, a new field of study had started of recreation management for municipalities. This allowed me to be involved in creating programs for all ages, designing parks and playgrounds, and dealing with the public. I know I made the right choice as it’s been a most satisfying career.
Q: Most might see this as a “cushy” job. What does your job entail on a day to day basis?
A: Being director of Parks and Recreation is a great job, particularly here in Fairfield. I’ve had great support from the residents as well as all the town boards and other departments that have provided me with the resources necessary to make my job easier. It’s a fun job, most days. Every day is different, and of course it really depends on the time of the year and what projects are going on. We are always planning, almost a year in advance, to provide the community with an array of programs, special events and facilities that the community has come to enjoy. Day to day, I also plan and oversee a budget of over $3 million, with revenue in excess of $4 million. I manage 10 full-time employees, and oversee 300 seasonal employees. An average day might entail meeting with a resident regarding their experience with one of our programs or facilities; touching base with Public Works to make improvements at the parks or waterfront or checking in on the operations and improvements at the golf courses. As any manager can attest, your day always changes with the first phone call.
Q: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the town’s recreation department?
A: We have seen a great deal of change during my tenure. I am always asking the staff to work outside the box and not just “keep doing it because that’s how it’s always been done”. I would say the biggest change has been the implementation of the online computer system. We used to have residents wait in line for hours to register for summer programs, or sleep in the parking lot to get a tee time at the golf course. This is now all done online, and has made it so convenient for everyone. We introduced our online beach sticker program, and now a process that used to take many employees months is now done by my small staff in minutes. With the introduction of social media, we are able to communicate faster and easier with our residents and this has improved the marketing of all our programs and facilities which has resulted in the growth of our programs.
Q: What are you most proud of during your tenure as the director?
A: Wow, that is a tough one. Besides being most proud of my long-time staff that works so hard to provide the community with all we offer, we have done so much over the years, creating new programs, improving and building new parks and fields. The building of Penfield, twice, major improvements to the golf courses — I’m looking forward to seeing plans for the new clubhouse.
I would have to say the one I am most proud of is the public/private partnership we entered into with Fairfield Indoor Tennis Inc. We entered into a long term contract with them to operate the winter tennis program, and in return they built, at their cost, a new complex which is comprised of tennis offices and a new teen center. The facility allows us to offer more indoor programs, dances, children’s birthday parties, and special events. I saw this as a win-win for the Town.
Q: What is your personal favorite as far as recreational activities go?
A: While I played many sports, my favorite is activity is golf.