Big changes are taking place at the Renner Road entrance to Shawnee Mission Park.
Construction of the John Barkley Plaza
, named after the first superintendent of what would later become JCPRD, got underway in late January near the eastern entrance to the park, and is expected to conclude by mid-fall.
“We’re realigning the road to the north and south, and we are removing the parking lot that you see when you pull into the park now,” said Project Manager Megan Garrett. “We are removing all of the limestone walls and creating a central plaza area that will include some seat walls and a shade pavilion.”
The concept for John Barkley Plaza is a more inviting, more open area, which will serve as an informal meeting place, and let visitors get a glimpse of the park. The road realignment will involve replacing the previous “T” entry into the park with more of a “Y” with stop signs for right turns and the road to the north being more rounded to accommodate a new parking lot to the northeast. Officials hope the road realignment aspect of the project can be completed in time for the start of summer camps in early June, but this and the rest of the project will be dependent upon favorable weather.
The existing flagpole near the park entrance will remain where it is, and will be the central point of the area. Behind that to the west will be a new shade pavilion measuring roughly 26’ by 60.’ This shelter will not be reservable or rentable and is intended as a casual meeting place.
“It’s meant to be the key place where you can meet your friends when you say ‘hey, let’s meet at Shawnee Mission Park,’ “Garrett said. “The thought is you’ll leave to do whatever you’re going to do in the park with your friends from here - you’re going to get on the trails and walk, or go on your bike ride, and come back here. We’re preserving the oak trees that have been there, so it’s going to be this shady spot where you can sit and drink your water and eat your snack and talk to your friends about that ride you just did or the hike that you just went on.”
The plaza will also feature a plantscape involving native grasses and forbs.
“It’s all ribbons of native plants that go from low, medium, to high,” Garrett said. “They come through the plaza area and continue towards Renner Road.”
Other features of the plaza will include a drinking fountain, BikeShare bike rack, and a bike fix-it station. Users of the plaza will have access to existing restrooms inside the vestibule of the nearby JCPRD Administration Building, which are available whenever the park is open.
Moving parking for the plaza area to a new satellite area to the northeast, with some additional parking to the south, is part of efforts to make the area more welcoming.
“One reason we removed the parking lot is that the first thing you would see would be the back of a bunch of cars, and then these walls, and you couldn’t really see into the park,” Garrett said. “We wanted to highlight more of the park.”
Informational kiosks, including a park map for reference, will be located near the north and south parking areas.
Aesthetic considerations are not the only reason the stone walls that have been near the park entrance since the park was dedicated in 1962 are being removed.
“The limestone that was used was quarried onsite, and it is not a high -quality limestone that you would in use general to build retaining walls,” Garrett said. “It’s not a Bethany Limestone, which is hard, so it was fracturing. It wasn’t holding together very well. We had some architects look at it, and it wasn’t something that could be repaired.”
Planning for the John Barkley Plaza project began in June 2017 and involved several opportunities for public input.
Two other separate but related projects near Shawnee Mission Park’s Renner Road entrance are expected later this year. One will involve the installation by early fall of traffic signals at the intersection of 79th Street and Renner Road, and adding a right-hand turn lane into the park from the north. This will be a joint effort between JCPRD and the cities of Shawnee and Lenexa, with each agency picking up a third of the cost. The other project will involve placing a single monument sign for the park just north of the 79th Street entrance, replacing the park’s two existing monument signs near that entrance that were placed in the early 2000s when it was anticipated a roundabout may be placed near the park entrance.