The master plan for R Park, located at 55th Terrace and Juniper Drive in Roeland Park, has been on the shelf for years, but a group of citizens has banded together to change that — and it’s succeeding.
Formerly the site of Roeland Park Elementary School, R Park is a grassy field with the old school playground at one end. Last week, construction started on a new path that winds throughout the five-acre park after a group called the Citizens Fundraising Initiative pulled together the necessary funding.
Leading the group is Roland Park resident Gretchen Davis.
“About a decade ago, many citizens spoke to the city council and … said you have got to keep this a green space,” Davis said. “(This) February, my husband and I were talking about that process, and we wondered when in the world the park was ever going to have its master plan realized.”
After looking into the matter, Davis found that the problem standing in the way was a financial one.
“Wal-mart is considering leaving Roeland Park, and that’s put a huge dent in the budget,” she said.
She found a few other like-minded residents, and in the last 9 months, they raised $18,000 to go toward the park’s construction.
Their first fundraising endeavor was to ask residents and businesses for $100 donations to celebrate the city’s 63rd birthday in the spring. Davis liked the idea of residents taking ownership of the project.
The name of the park is R Park, which is “a little play on words” Davis said. “You know the city is called Roeland Park, but it also can stand for “our park.” The slogan we use is ‘R Park, your park.’”
That initial campaign was a success, bringing in more than $7,000. The group followed that up with an October event called “Bacon, Blues and Brews.” Event tickets and merchandise sales from that event raised the remainder of the money in their coffers.
However, they needed more before they could break ground. Davis said the city clerk suggested she look into a grant offered by the Sunflower Foundation that the city itself had considered but couldn’t apply for because it required putting up matching funds.
Applying together, the group and the city received a matching grant from the foundation. Both the city and the foundation put up extra money to plant trees in the park.
Created by the state more than a decade ago, the foundation promotes healthy living and has given other grants to promote trail construction in Kansas.
The money from the fundraising group and the foundation will fund the path currently being built through the park. There are various parts of the master plan that will come as they raise more money: benches, trash cans, a new tennis court, a picnic shelter, a landscaped amphitheater and water fountains.
Jan Duncan, Synergy Construction’s general contractor for the project, said that it’s unusual for citizens to lead the way on such a project. Most of the time, the city government is the one to push projects like these.
“It has really revitalized an interest in the park and in providing a gathering space for the community. The community has made an effort this summer to have more events in that park,” Davis said. “One thing I had noticed is when people came to the park, they would stay down by the playground area, and the park is almost five acres. Now with the trail … people are now going to use that entire space.”
Davis said the city has had an influx of young families, who also want the revitalized park. She also appreciates the help she’s gotten from the city of Roeland Park.
“This would not have happened without their cooperation,” she said.
She encourages anyone who wants to contribute to the park to call the Roeland Park City Hall.