Since Roeland Park Elementary closed in 2004, the residents of the tight-knit neighborhoods surrounding the property had fretted that the open swath of land that for decades had served as a focal point for their community was lying fallow. The city’s eventual purchase of the property from the Shawnee Mission School District had set the stage for a vibrant second-act for the land as R Park. But the murkiness of Roeland Park’s finances during the Great Recession meant the chances of getting the kinds of amenities that would make the park a draw for young families were uncertain at best.
“There were a lot of parents with kids who had gone to Roeland Park Elementary who saw that space and said, ‘We’ve got to do something here, because that park will bring younger families [to our neighborhood],'” said organizer Gretchen Davis.
With the prospect of Walmart – the city’s lead sales tax revenue generator — leaving the city for the Mission Gateway development a few years ago, proponents of investing in the park knew they’d have an even harder time getting city funds allocated to parks improvements. So in February 2014, Davis, her husband Ardie, and a group of their neighbors got together with the intent to raise funds to help finance the installation of park amenities.
Once the Citizens Fundraising Initiative for R Park was officially up and running, the group was overwhelmed by the support they received from Roeland Park residents and area businesses alike.
“It was almost like people had been waiting for someone to ask” them to support parks project, Ardie said.
Now, nearly three years later, the group has generated donations of more than $122,000 for parks improvements. With an additional investment of more than $19,000 from the city, the group has spurred the construction of a limestone trail around the park’s perimeter as well as the installation of a water fountain, 10 benches, three picnic tables, four trash cans and a bicycle rack. Additionally, the group helped fund the planting of 20 species of trees throughout R Park to replace the dozens of ash trees that were culled in response to the threat of the emerald ash borer.
But the Davises and their co-organizers say that there is still much work to do to bring R Park to its full potential. One amenity notably absent from the park at present is a shelter.
“There isn’t much good shade in the park now until the new trees get mature,” Gretchen said. A new picnic shelter, she said, would go a long way toward making the park more attractive on hot summer days.
The new shelter is expected to cost around $125,000 total. The citizens’ group has set its sights on raising $14,000 for that project in the coming months. As part of that effort, they’ll host a new fundraising event this March at the Roeland Park Community Center call the “Spring Wine Fling.” Houlihan’s Restaurant and Bar in Fairway, along with Sweet Ideas, Nothing Bundt Cake and the BP on Johnson Drive, have committed to providing food and drink for the event, where patrons will be able to sample wines, small plates and desserts while enjoying live classical music.
“One important thing about our events is that 100 percent of the ticket cost goes toward the fundraising,” Ardie said.
For more information about the Spring Wine Fling, which will be held March 25, visit the city’s website here. If you’re interested in how to donate to the group in other ways, call Roeland Park at 913-722-2600.
A video summarizing the group’s work is embedded below: