New parks director Dennis DiPinto is eager to learn ‘a lot’

Overseeing lifeguards and camp counselors, parks maintainers and program administrators, budgets and hiring and fiscal management — what Dennis DiPinto will be doing in Ridgefield isn’t very different from what he’s been doing in Brookfield for two decades.

DiPinto, Ridgefield’s new director of Parks & Recreation, said he isn’t arriving with preconceived ideas about how things ought to be done, or an agenda of changes he plans to push.

“I’m not going to be rushing anything right out of the gate,” DiPinto told The Press. “It’s a large operation. It’s going to take some time to learn. …

“Once I have a handle, we’re going to bring some new ideas and energy. The short-term goal is to ascertain what our strengths are.”

He is excited.

“I’m really looking forward to the challenges here in Ridgefield,” DiPinto said.

“I’m looking forward to working for this town that’s considered progressive in many areas. The commission — the Parks and Recreation Commission — is a strong group of professionals,” he said. “I’m looking forward to learning a lot while I’m here.”

DiPinto comes to town after overseeing nearby Brookfield’s recreation programs and park properties — which include Lake Candlewood waterfront property, as well as ball fields, tennis courts and the like.

“Twenty-one and a half years in Brookfield has prepared me very well,” he said.

“Similar to Ridgefield, I was in charge of all the school grounds, municipal properties …” he said, “a vibrant recreation department with everything from adult education — which was also under us — to your after-school activities, summer camps.”

The Brookfield Parks & Recreation Department has 12 full-time staff, compared to 31 in Ridgefield. And DiPinto oversaw maybe 150 to 175 part-time and seasonal employees in Brookfield — a number that would be around 200 in Ridgefield, he said.

“Very similar type operations,” he said, “lifeguards and water safety instructors, waterfront operations and camp operations, and preschool, tot, and teen programming.”

One difference will be that Ridgefield’s teen center, The Barn, is run by the Boys & Girls Club, not the town.

Another is that while Brookfield’s adult education was under his authority, in Ridgefield there’s a separate adult education operation — although Ridgefield Parks & Recreation does offer classes in subjects that range from fencing to fitness and tennis to dog obedience.

Both towns operate under a “pay as you go” system, with taxpayers covering some basic operating expenses for the department, including salaries for its central administration, but with programs generally expected to be financed by user fees from the people who participate.

“Dennis DiPinto comes highly recommended from the town of Brookfield,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said. “A previous selectman referred to Dennis as one of the best employees he ever had while serving the town of Brookfield. And I am pleased to welcome Dennis to the town of Ridgefield.”

Hiring process

Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Phil Kearns said the entire seven-member commission was involved in the process that led to DiPinto’s hiring, although a three-member committee worked most closely with town Personnel Director Laurie Fernandez.

Though he is fairly local, DiPinto competed with a pool of applicants drawn from many states — Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Montana — as well as from other Connecticut towns and New York.

“We had applications from around the country,” Kearns said. “Dennis stood out as a terrific candidate.”

And commissioners had the benefit of seeing some of his work.

“He’s done quite a bit up in Brookfield — just finished the Still River Greenway,” Kearns said.

“If you’re driving up Super 7, the Still River Greenway is a two-mile paved greenway, including a significant pedestrian bridge over the river.

“It’s really quite wonderful, a place to walk and bike and run,” Kearns said. “The bridge is beautiful when you go by.”

New ideas

DiPinto expects he’ll eventually make some changes in Ridgefield.

“I’m going to bring some new ideas, I’m going to bring some efficiencies — over time,” he said.

As a result of working nearby, and also through the Connecticut Parks and Recreation Association, DiPinto has long been friendly with Paul Roche, who retired in March after leading Ridgefield’s Parks & Recreation Department for 41 years.

“I came to Brookfield and met Paul right away. I’ve known Paul for 20 years as a colleague,” he said.

Both Roche and DiPinto worked early in their careers for the parks and recreation department in Old Saybrook.

“I was there four years, 1992-96 — somewhere around 15 years after Paul left,” DiPinto said.

DiPinto grew up in Farmington.

“A Connecticut boy, through and through,” he said.

He graduated from Farmington High School and went to college at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire.

DiPinto and his wife, Alison — who works as a psychotherapist — have been married 20 years. They have two daughters, Zoe, 19, a sophomore in college, and Gabriella, 16, a junior at Brookfield High School.

Keeping Gabriella in the same high school is one reason the family will continue living there.

“And,” DiPinto said, “my commute is 15 minutes.”