Milwaukee Recreation hosts grand reopening event at Custer Playfield

September 19, 2019

Milwaukee Recreation’s emphasis on equity across the city shone brightly once again, as the department hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Custer Playfield on Saturday, Sept. 14 to unveil the playfield’s newly constructed basketball courts, age-appropriate play structures, and walking path.

“By making this investment, Milwaukee Public Schools has demonstrated once again that its number one priority is the children of this community,” Mayor Tom Barrett said.

The event was filled with dozens of Milwaukeeans, including the district officials who facilitated the project, the managers who constructed the site, and the children who will enjoy the revamped playfield for years to come. Neighborhood residents from Chuck’s Block Watch also treated the community to a party featuring playground activities, roller skating, face painting, a moon bounce, and a visit from the Milwaukee Police Department’s free ice cream truck.

Two neighborhood brothers – Malik, age 8, and Messiah, age 11 – were out on the playfield prior to the ribbon-cutting event, breaking in the new basketball courts and the playground equipment for the rest of the community. Both came away more than satisfied with Custer’s new look.

“There are going to be a lot of full [basketball] games on the courts, so I’m excited about playing games with other people,” Messiah said. Malik added that he is looking forward to the new Custer playfield because the previous iteration “didn’t have all the extra fun stuff,” including swings, more intricate playground equipment, music equipment, and more.

Last fall, Milwaukee Recreation began work to remodel and rebuild its recreation playfields by breaking ground at the first three sites to be transformed: Columbia, Custer, and Southgate. Columbia Playfield reopened in August. Custer is the second playfield to reopen.

Many of Milwaukee Recreation’s playfields were built in the 1920s and 1930s. The existing outdoor recreation system is comprised of 52 active use playfields encompassing more than 300 acres of programmed space. The majority of these sites serve as neighborhood scale parks with traditional recreational facilities such as ball fields, tot lots, tennis courts, field houses, and general open space.

In 2014, the department retained a consultant to conduct a review of its existing facilities and provide a roadmap for improvements to the playfields. The result was the Milwaukee Outdoor Recreation Facilities Master Plan. The plan rated 65 percent of the facilities as fair to poor, and identified more than $25 million in needed improvements over a 10-year span. The department then analyzed the neighborhood and population characteristics surrounding each playfield to create a priority list of projects that emphasized racial and economic equity.

“We started this journey to reimagine 52 playfields in 2014, and after a great deal of support and a lot of hard work, our vision is becoming reality,” Milwaukee Recreation senior director Lynn Greb said. “We selected Custer Playfield as one of our first projects because it checked all of our criteria. It is our honor to return this play space back to the residents in a condition far better than what it was.”

Milwaukee Recreation will continue its playfield progress this fall, when the department breaks ground on the Clovernook and Franklin Square Playfields. Stay tuned for details!

“How are the children?” MPS Superintendent Dr. Keith P. Posley asked the crowd in attendance at the Custer Playfield Grand Reopening before reciting his familiar refrain: “The children are well!”