816 North

It takes a village to beautify a town

The City of Gladstone had a little help with town beautification thanks to about 100 students from Oak Park High School. Freshmen Jonathan Cantrell (left) and Dondra Thomas paint a power box at Oak Grove Park.
The City of Gladstone had a little help with town beautification thanks to about 100 students from Oak Park High School. Freshmen Jonathan Cantrell (left) and Dondra Thomas paint a power box at Oak Grove Park. jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com

The scent of freshly cut grass signals summer is just around the corner.

But for the people managing the upkeep at places like Gladstone, Leawood, Riverside and Fairway, grass is on their minds six months a year. And it’s a “spring thing” as much as a summer chore.

“We plan our week around it,” says Fairway Public Works Director Bill Stogsdill of the spring and summer months. “And we fill the rest of the time with everything else we have to do.”

The checklist is endless, he says of spring and summer preparations.

Stogsdill and a five-man crew begin changing the oil, sharpening the blades and checking the wheels on their mowers as early as March to make sure things are ready for managing the 16 acres of land they maintain.

During prime spring and summer season — Memorial Day to Labor Day — Stogsdill says they spend 60 hours a week mowing, weed eating, and trimming shrubs and plants around town.

Fairway, a town of just under 4,000 residents, is like many others around Kansas City: It needs sprucing up this time of year.

“The citizens really appreciate when things are really clean and kept neat,” says Fairway Parks and Recreation Director Brice Soeken.

Preparations, however, don’t stop at grass maintenance.

Streets need sweeping. Fountains need cleaning. And no town is complete without a little color.

“It’s pleasing to everybody’s eye,” says Justin Merkey, director at Gladstone Parks & Recreation, of the 2,300 annual plants he has delivered every May. “You’ve got nice color that makes the ground pop.”

Signs of spring are in the air in Gladstone, where residents admired the hibiscus and marigold flowers around Linden Square, the clock tower on 70th Street and on North Oak Trafficway between 69th Street and 71st Street.

Area parks also require maintenance, Merkey says, including trail cleanup, paint touchups and the laying of mulch.

More than 300 North Kansas City School District students from Oak Park High School on April 19 volunteered four hours of their time to eliminate litter and paint park benches and picnic tables.

Mike Dial, assistant principal at Oak Park High School, says the service day helped fulfill a community service requirement that students need to graduate.

“We have a big imprint on the Northland,” Dial says of the district’s four high schools. “We are taking our kids and giving back to the community that helped raise them.”

“I just think that it looks nicer to everyone coming in,” says Rachel Wingerson, a freshman at Oak Park High School who spent the day raking leaves. “You don’t really want to go visit somewhere if it doesn’t look nice.”

Merkey says this is the second year Oak Park students have helped with spring cleanup.

Gladstone isn’t the only town that invites its residents to share in the beautification process.

Troop 10 Boy Scouts and the American Heritage Girls on May 17 got their hands dirty at Ironwoods Park, at 14701 Mission Road in Leawood, by planting 200 trees and 500 milkweed plants.

“It helps spread that message that we need to encourage more planting of trees in our environment, and we also need to plant more trees for pollinators,” says Leawood outdoor education supervisor Scott Gamerl.

David Jercha, 11, a Boy Scout and a fifth-grader at Prairie Star Elementary, says he planted white oak trees and milkweed plants to attract monarch butterflies.

“It makes me feel pretty good that when I walk by and see the trees, that I will say, ‘Hey, I planted that,’ ” David says.

Brian Anderson, Leawood superintendent of Parks & Recreation, says the city has spent $8,000 for mulch this year — the equivalent of five semi-trucks full — to plant trees and shrubs around Gezer Park, the Leawood Justice Center and the other 436 acres of land the city manages.

“It’s all about maintaining our properties and keeping them up to our standards,” Anderson says.

But property maintenance goes beyond making things look pretty, says Riverside Director of Public Works Tom Wooddell.

Water maintenance labor alone cost the city $10,000 last year, including the upkeep of area fountains and water features.

Summer temperatures require more hands on deck, says Wooddell. Staff must check the water pumps and motors on fountains, and power wash structures to prevent algae buildup.

During prom season, Wooddell says students flock to the city’s Briarcliff Waterfall fountain at Northwest Platte Road and Northwest Valley Lane. The rock wall behind the fountain requires cleaning all season long to keep it looking picture-ready, he adds.

When it does require maintenance, it only takes a few hours before the phone rings and residents ask, “Hey, is that thing going to be on Saturday” for pictures, he says with a chuckle.

Wooddell describes Public Works employees as “silent heroes” who serve the city’s residents and the public. Their job, he says, is to make residents happy. Nothing makes his day like a phone call from a Riverside resident complimenting his crew on a job well done.

“We are kind of the silent beautifiers,” Wooddell says. “Public Works isn’t a ribbon-cutting job. We do this because we like to do it.”