New trails, new playgrounds, a new beach house and the first-ever indoor production for Theatre in the Park are all in the plans for 2017, as the county begins to harvest the first fruits of a tax increase and other public financing approved in 2015.
Next year is shaping up as one of the biggest for the Johnson County Park and Recreation District, with a flurry of ground breakings and grand openings on projects that have been on drawing boards for years.
“I think 2017 is going to be a wild year for the parks with all the stuff that is going on,” said County Commissioner Steve Klika.
Some of the long-awaited park development projects are being funded as the county begins collecting the 0.75-mill property tax increase approved for the park district in 2015. The increase pays for trails, playgrounds and shelters on land the county bought years ago in southern and western parts areas of the county as well as maintaining existing parks. Other projects depend on bonds or public/private partnerships.
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Commissioners recently got a preview of some of the new park offerings the public will see next year, plus more specific plans for new parks being developed farther from the current population center. Here’s the timetable:
“Grease” is the word for the first-ever indoor production of Theatre in the Park at the new Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center. The facility, at the former King Louie bowling lanes and ice rink at 8788 Metcalf Ave., is scheduled to have its grand opening at a yet-to-be-announced date in May.
The center makes it possible for the community theater group to add indoor productions. Space will also be rented to other groups and to hold art and dance classes.
The county museum will be a big presence at the center, taking up much of the main floor with its 1950s All Electric House and “Becoming Johnson County” exhibit.
But the popular Kidscape space – a hands-on learning area where kids can play at being storekeepers, pioneers and other workers – will also be impressive, said Jill Geller, director of the park district.
Museum boosters have not yet found funding for the Kidscape exhibit, Geller said. So the park board recently decided to advance $350,000 to get the space up and running by opening day. That money will be paid back over three years by museum fund raisers, she said.
Kidscape will have rural, urban and suburban play areas, with a farmhouse and soft play area, hospital, drive-in, schoolhouse, theater and city market. The kid-sized city hall will have cubbies for costumes and a jail with an escape hatch into a secret cave.
“I think you’ll see when you walk into the facility a new and exciting museum as part of (the park district) and it will truly be a ‘wow,’” Geller said.
The Arts and Heritage Center was funded by a $20.7 million bond issue, with ongoing programs to be paid from space rental and fees. It was not included in the property tax increase package.
Construction on $3.1 million of trails, shelters and playground at Lexington Lake Park has already started and is set to be completed in June, said Jeff Stewart, deputy director of the park district. Formerly known as Rieke Lake, the park has more than 400 acres, including a 28-acre fishing lake, north of Kansas Highway 10 and west of De Soto.
The early work focuses on access, dam and lake improvements, restrooms, parking and a boat dock at the lake.
Visitors to the beach at Shawnee Mission Park will notice a big change in July. The old beach house will have been replaced by a new structure with space for concessions, a covered seating area and restrooms.
The old beach house has been demolished and construction on the $925,000 structure will begin in January.
The park also has a redone entrance, with a new police station and new green space dubbed the John Barkley Plaza. Barkley was the first superintendent of the park district.
Work is underway on the new Coffee Creek Trail, expected to open in August. The trail project, which combines $1.9 million of county money with an $866,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation, runs for 3.4 miles along Coffee Creek. The new trail starts at Heritage Park and ends near 169th Street and Switzer Road.
Ground will be broken in January for the first phase of development at the county’s massive Big Bull Creek Park, located on about 2,000 acres between Gardner and Edgerton. The first phase, scheduled to open in November, takes place in three areas — at the Sunflower Road entrance near 207th Street, near 199th Street and Four Corners Road and near Interstate 35 and 213th Street.
The Sunflower entrance will feature a big playground using natural elements like a rock bubbling fountain, hill slide, spider net and limestone rocks. There will also be a three-quarter-mile looping trail with connection to Edgerton’s Martin Creek Park, prairie restoration and picnic shelters.
Park designers are trying to keep as many natural elements as possible because that’s what future park users have said they want, Stewart said.
A park police and maintenance station is planned for the 199th Street area, and group campgrounds will be developed further south, near 213th Street.
The $6 million project is only the first part of Big Bull development. Other phases are yet to come, but their timetable has not been completed.
Coming in 2018
Some other high-visibility projects are also getting underway but won’t be finished until 2018.
The 80 acres of green space in the Meadowbrook development in Prairie Village is one example. Ground was broken last year on that project, which also includes residential and retail buildings.
The clubhouse on the former golf and country club has been designed to include an early childhood development center, multi-purpose classroom and event space for about 200. The 11,000-square-foot building replacing the old clubhouse will be on one story, but could be expanded later.
The park district is also building 3.75 miles of trails, plus playgrounds, a large pavilion and senior wellness area on the grounds. The $12.2 million project is expected to be completed in April 2018.
Money comes from a tax increment financing district and public funds.
The Shawnee Mission School District’s new Aquatic Center is also in the planning stages, with a projected opening in fall 2018. Details are still fluid, but so far the $20 million center will have two pools – a 50-meter competitive pool and a warm-up pool – and seating for 1,500. It will be located in median space on 87th Street Parkway at the Lenexa City Center development.
The pool will be built by the school district but operated and managed by the park district.