Vacant field near campus to open for use next fall

It is a part of the Marquette community that barely exists in the back of most students’ minds, aside from those upperclassmen passing it on the hike up Kilbourn Avenue to get home. This 1.95-acre field is completely surrounded by fencing with signs bearing in bold, capital letters, “Field unavailable for play. Please keep off.”

The field is located between 18th and 19th streets and between Kilbourn Avenue and State Street and is called Norris Park. After entering into a rent-free, 25-year lease agreement with the city of Milwaukee in January 2010, Marquette has been making improvements to the field.

Rana Altenburg, vice president for public affairs, said the university is redeveloping the land in return for access to the field for recreational activities.

Though students will primarily use the space, it will also be open to community organizations seeking green space, said Altenburg, who is also a board member of the community group Avenues West Association.

“It’s important for the space to be active to create a vibrant neighborhood,” she said.

Norris Park, formerly a public field accompanied by a few asphalt basketball courts, currently includes a 1,200-square-foot field house with restrooms, with the remaining open land nearly covering the entire block.

Besides installing new grass and fencing and improving the restrooms, the university plans to install lights and put up netting to keep balls in, said John Sweeney, director of recreational sports.

Sweeney said the park will mostly be used for club sports practices and possibly intramural sports, adding that he thinks it will offer enough space for two teams to practice at once. He named soccer, lacrosse, baseball and rugby as the most likely candidates to use the facility.

“Our greatest need is outdoor grass space,” Sweeney said, citing proximity and scheduling issues at Valley Fields, the current practice facility for several club sports teams.

Kat Clark, a sophomore in the College of Nursing, played lacrosse last year and agreed that the long walk to Valley Fields is inconvenient. She also expressed delight in the new space because she feels it will help balance the urban feel of campus with the need for green space.

The park will also be open to the everyday student not involved in club sports, though on a limited basis. Sweeney said the “open-play” period for such students is still under debate but will likely be on weekends and during weekday afternoon hours.

Albert Maruggi, a junior in the College of Communication, is one such student and is particularly concerned because he lives only a block from the park. He believes Marquette is in dire need of more outdoor recreational space, especially more basketball courts.

Though the park was originally to be open for summer, Sweeney said its inauguration is set for next fall because the grass needs more time to grow.

Altenburg said the project began about a decade ago when many students started advocating for more green space on campus. The city also acknowledged such a need for the community.

AWA worked with the city to improve the park, which was once retained by Milwaukee Public Schools and identified as a site in need of repair, but met a shortage of funds, Altenburg said.

June Moberly, executive director for AWA, was a strong advocate for the redevelopment and recognized the need for an outside institution to step in. Thus, Marquette came into play as a key player for the park’s renewal.

“A park is intended to serve the people around the park … meaning the students,” Moberly said.

Altenburg and Moberly also recognized the importance of community integration and thus the opportunity for community groups to use the improved park became part of the lease agreement. Groups are encouraged to fill out a permit application form through the office of recreational sports, Altenburg said.

“We hope for the park to be a model for community partnerships in an urban environment,” she said.