Next year, Hays could be home to a recreation complex with a ball field, playground and splash pad designed to be accessible for all ages and abilities.
The Arc of the Central Plains, 600 Main, offered details of its plans for the $1.6 million project at Friday morning’s Hays Area Chamber of Commerce Chamber Chat in the Arc’s recreation room.
The Arc has been working with the city parks department on the proposal and hopes to present it to the Hays City Commission within the next few weeks, Kathy McAdoo, Arc executive director, said.
Two city parks have been identified as possible locations for the complex, Brent Kaiser, Arc activities director, said — Auble-Bickle Park, 30th and Sherman, or Seven Hills Park, 33rd and Hillcrest.
Seven Hills is the preferred location, Kaiser said.
“We like the setup of this. We wouldn’t have to knock out any of the other existing pieces,” he said.
The city recently built a new restroom in Seven Hills Park, and it already has amenities such as a shelter house.
“We think this would be a good spot. The only question we have about this space is parking because it’s only street parking,” Kaiser said.
Once built, the Arc plans to give the complex to the city, which will then maintain it. But the building of the park will be paid for with private funds, McAdoo said.
“No tax dollars will be involved in paying for this project. All the funds that will pay for this project will be privately raised in Hays and surrounding communities,” she said.
McAdoo and Kaiser said it’s likely a complex like this would draw in not only those from surrounding towns who come to Hays to shop already, but also those traveling Interstate 70.
“It’s a destination spot. That’s what we’re dreaming of it to be,” Kaiser said.
Kaiser said while there are accessible parks in the region that have one of the elements, there are very few that have all three.
Sarah Meitner, a member of the Arc board of directors, said that while the city parks are all compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Arc wants to go farther for the community’s estimated 1,400 residents with disabilities.
“The parks here are fantastic,” she said. “All of our parks are ADA compliant, but they all have wood chips.”
While wood chips are ADA compliant, they can make it difficult for people who use wheelchairs or walkers or just have limited mobility, she said.
Meitner introduced the crowd to, Abe, 4, who has Down Syndrome. When Abe was younger, he could play at the city parks and keep up with his able-bodied peers, she said. But as he’s grown, the gap in his abilities compared to children his age has become more noticeable.
“He can’t swing on the swings like his peers can. He doesn’t have the muscle strength and the core ability,” Meitner said.
“We wanted to create something he could explore independently and feel that sense of empowerment and play collaboratively with his siblings or other kids who are there, and they wouldn’t even notice that he’s a little bit slower and jumping a little bit lower,” she said.
“The impact of play is not just for fun. It’s gross motor skills development, it’s cognition development, it’s fine motor skills. There’s really a host of benefits that will make this even more important,” she said.
Kaiser outlined the features of the complex. The surface under the play structure will be a rubber pad. The play structure itself will have wide ramps and features that can be used by those in a wheelchair. The ballfield will have turf, but the infield and bases will be painted.
Kaiser noted the Arc started a Special Olympics softball team last year, but not everyone could play because of the dirt field, he said. The field could also be used as an additional field for t-ball teams, he said.
Swing sets will feature disc swings for those without the muscle strength to sit. Kaiser said they considered wheelchair swings, but found too many safety concerns.
Other features of the play area will include side-by-side play and sensory elements with lighting and sound.
The complex will have an agriculture and oil theme to reflect the region, Kaiser said.
The Arc doesn’t intend for the complex to be just for those with disabilities, however.
“This is for children and adults with all abilities so they can play together,” Meitner said.
One element — the splash pad — already has generated excitement in the community and it will be designed with Hays’ water conservation in mind, Kaiser said.
“Our system will be a recirculating system because we know that water in this part of the state is very, very sacred,” he said.
Fundraising for the project is expected to begin this fall with a grassroots, community-based effort. McAdoo said after that is underway, the Arc will approach the Dane G. Hansen Foundation in Logan to see matching funds. Corporate sponsors will also be sought.
The Arc is hoping for a spring groundbreaking, but that will depend on the fundraising, McAdoo said. The estimate of $1.6 million includes installation by the supplying company, GameTime.
More information on the proposal or donations can be found at Facebook.com/HAYSARCPARK.