The view from the top of a frosty hill at Meadowbrook Park is bleak. Silt fences are everywhere, as are the mounds of dirt they are keeping in place. Vee-shaped shelters have sprouted in places, but they’re surrounded by crunchy frozen mud. The new clubhouse is standing, but piles of construction material surround it.
Meadowbrook is not ready for its close-up, that much is clear. And after passing three estimated opening dates, county park officials say now that it will be sometime this spring – no specifics – before park-goers can expect a celebration of its full completion. There may be an early soft opening for the activity center on the former clubhouse site. But again, no specifics.
“We’re getting a little bit closer,” says Jeff Stewart, deputy director of administrative services management for the county park district. “The weather’s not helping us out currently. It’s past our originally planned dates to say the least, but we’re working very closely on a daily basis with our general contractor and subcontractors to get everything completed and open to the public as soon as we possibly can.”
Despite how it looks, there isn’t really a lot left to do. The clubhouse is in the finishing stages. It still needs a land line, furniture and internet but should be ready for a temporary occupancy permit soon, Stewart said. The parking area needs a coat of asphalt and of course, there are the dirt mounds and fencing to deal with. But recent snows and temperatures that struggled to climb into the teens are keeping any of that from happening. The ground needs to not only thaw, but also dry out first.
Unforeseen construction complications lead to delays
The first spades of earth for Meadowbrook were officially turned in May 2016, after lengthy negotiations between the park district, school district and Prairie Village over its funding. The former golf and country club was to be developed by VanTrust Real Estate into a public/private destination, with the 82-acre park and its ponds bordering apartments and their amenities.
When Prairie Village originally approved the project, the anticipated opening was fall of 2017. But that target was moved back to April 2018 after officials decided to replace the aging clubhouse with an activity center.
The three ponds that already existed in the middle of the development were a central part of the park. But as it turned out, 2017 was not a great year for construction involving water.
The ponds were dug out and improved so trails could run alongside. At the southernmost end, crews built a new spillway. But that was the summer of heavy rains. Back-to-back storms – the same ones that washed out a portion of Turkey Creek Trail – exposed significant failure of the new spillway. The park itself wasn’t damaged, but the spillway had to be redesigned and rebuilt, causing the first major construction delay.
There was also the problem of overlap, Stewart said. The apartments needed sewers, but the former golf course had none, and that plus utility work affected the pace of park development. “We had a lot of different projects on top of each other out here,” Stewart said.
Though the northern half of the park wasn’t close to finished, the park district was able to get the southern part, south of Meadowbrook Parkway, open to the public last summer. And kids have already sighted the mound, known unofficially as Meadowbrook Hill, as a good place to sled.
The next expected completion date was the end of 2018. But Meadowbrook wasn’t able to make that one either, due to a number of things, Stewart said.
The general delays from earlier meant the contractor got a late start on the clubhouse, and weather and ground moisture kept the foundation from being completed so the framing could be up before winter set in. That delay has affected every other expectation since, he said.
‘Complicated design’ of clubhouse poses challenge
The clubhouse’s complicated design has also been a challenge for the contractor, he said.
“Quite honestly they haven’t hit their schedule like they had outlined,” Stewart said. “That’s been frustrating for all of us but the work that has been done is of top quality and we’ll be excited to open it up to the public here soon.”
“I think everybody that’s been involved wishes we were all said and done now.”
But builders have done a lot. The old golf cart trails were not in great shape and in the wrong locations, so they were torn out. The park now has 3.7 miles of new 10-foot-wide trails graded to comply with federal standards for accessibility.
Three butterfly-winged shelters and a pavilion are up, as well as a restroom, bridges and senior exercise course. Pickleball courts stand at the ready for their first tournaments. And there will be a new, $735,000 destination playground.
The old clubhouse was razed, but some of its stonework was saved for the exterior walls. Inside, blues, greens and golf-ball-patterned bathroom wall covering recall the park’s former glory days.
All told, the park costs about $12 million, with some support coming from tax increment financing. The 12,500-square-foot clubhouse, which will have meeting space and a children’s nature discovery area among its uses, was about $3.8 million of that total.
The brand-new park won’t have the grandeur of some other urban parks like Loose Park in Kansas City. But once it’s opened, it will be unique to the Johnson County park system, Stewart said. The golf course land was a rare opportunity for the park district to add a major park to the county’s most populated area.
Given that population and the new apartments going up, the park is expected to get a lot of use, Stewart said.
“I think this will be an award winning park that will be enjoyed for many, many years and decades to come. I think people will be pleased when it is all said and done,” he said. “We just wish it was sooner rather than later.”