Seth Pennington is the new director of the City of Madison Parks & Recreation Department. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
Seth Pennington is the new director of the City of Madison Parks & Recreation Department. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
Seth Pennington spent the last eight years away from his hometown learning everything he could about organization and leadership. Now he plans on bringing that expertise to the city’s parks department.

Pennington was officially named the new director of the City of Madison Parks & Recreation Department last week by Madison Mayor Bob Courtney. For the 2012 Madison High School graduate, the job is a chance to give back to a community that he loves dearly.

“I’ve involved with different private organizations with business development, zoning and leadership development. Basically taking a broken structure and putting it back together,” Pennington said. “That’s what we we’re hoping to do here. We want to change our culture and change the way it processes and what we do. Really, we’re trying to take a full look at everything we do and saying why do we do it and is there a better way to do it?”

Pennington played both basketball and baseball at Madison before heading to Franklin College for a year. After that, he switched to IUPUI where he focused on education.

After several years of working in the Indiana Senate as well as private business, Pennington and his wife Kim moved back to Madison earlier this year. At the time, he didn’t have any intention of getting into city government.

“The first time they offered me the job, I turned them down. I was happy with what I was doing and I wasn’t sure that (being the Parks Director) was something that I wanted,” Pennington on said. “They then asked me to do it on an interim basis and I agreed. After about a week, I realized that it was something that I was really getting into.”

Pennington’s plan is to not just build the parks & recreation department, but to overhaul it completely. Pennington looks at what other communities have accomplished with their parks system and sees no reason why Madison couldn’t follow in their footsteps.

“When you look at Carmel or Greenwood or some other places, you really see what a parks department can do for a community,” Pennington said. “Obviously we don’t have the money that they have in a place like Westfield, but there are plenty of opportunities to upgrade what we have and to offer programs to everybody.”

Pennington said that there are 27 parks in the Madison system, many of which are underused or run down. He points to Bicentennial Park as an example of a park that only gets used a few times a year and the park in the Oak Hill subdivision that has fallen into disrepair. Each serve as examples of a different way of thinking that he wants to bring to the department.

“I look over at Crystal Beach and I know how important that it is to the community,” Pennington said of the public swimming pool downtown. “There are a lot of repairs that need to be made with it, but I also see a lot of wasted space. What else can we do there to entice people to come down? Can we put in splash pads or other water park features? There are a lot of things that we can do, it just takes a different mindset.”

One thing that Pennington wants to explore is upgrading the Rucker Sports Complex with an eye towards hosting large-scale tournaments.

“We have the facilities around here, there is no reason why we can’t do that,” Pennington said. “Every year we send our kids away for tournaments; it would be nice to get people to come here instead. It would bring money into the community and it is something that want to do.”

But it’s not just facilities that Pennington hopes to tackle. The parks department currently offers leagues in nearly every sport, but little else for youth in the community. Pennington hopes to add other programs for kids while also expanding athletic opportunities.

“We’re very youth sport-centric. We have a lot of youth sports, but we’ve also farmed out a lot of our leagues,” Pennington said. “But what about other programs? What about somebody my age, in their mid-20s, who doesn’t have anything to do? We’re wanting to get more STEM programs started and more things for kids who aren’t into sports to do. We want to look at increasing adult programs and those for seniors. The parks department can offer a lot of things for members of community outside of just sports.”

Pennington also wants to upgrade the department’s online capabilities. Eventually, all parks permits and requests will be accomplished online, facilitating thew process and allowing the department to better track how and when parks are being used.

Pennington knows that what he wants to accomplish will not be an easy task. He is currently seeking an assistant director to help fulfill his vision, somebody he hopes will have experience in acquiring grants.

But his biggest need will be time. Pennington knows that the changes he wants to make will not happen overnight. But it’s a project that he plans on being a part of for the long haul.

“I’m not the kind of guy who just comes in and keeps things going the way they were. I’m the kind of guy that likes to build something, maybe something new,” Pennington said. “This is going to take a lot of time, I know that. But it’s also something that I’m really looking forward to.”