By CRISTINA JANNEY
The ARC of the Central Plains is making a fundraising push in hopes of having enough money to break ground on the accessible Hays ARC Park by the end of the summer.
The ARC Park has raised $330,000 in less than a year toward its $1.77 million goal to build an accessible playground, splash pad and baseball field at what is now Seven Hills Park.
Sarah Meitner, parent and fundraiser, said the ARC Park group is trying to have $600,000 in cash and in-kind pledges by the end of May so they can write a grant request to the Dane G. Hansen Foundation for the the remainder of their funding.
The group recently was approached by Trey Moeder, a former Hays resident, who has agreed his company — Forever Lawn Mile High of Colorado Springs, Colo. — will donate the labor for installation of the turf for the baseball field. A dollar amount for that donation has yet to be determined.
The ARC Park group had originally planned to build the accessible complex in three phases with the playground going in first.
However, the group determined it could save money by doing the complete build at one time. The group also noted the longer they wait, the more construction costs are likely to increase.
The ARC Park is pushing to complete as much of its fundraising now because it is racing against the weather. If the group hopes to have at least the playground portion of the park finished by the end of the year, it needs to order equipment in July.
The rubber surface for the playground can’t be laid during cold weather, so it would have to be completed before the weather turns nasty this fall. This would mean construction in September.
The group anticipates even if construction is finished on the splash pad this year, it would not open to the public until summer 2020.
The baseball field, however, could be used for the Special Olympics season, which will be in October, if the diamond is completed in time.
Brent Kaiser, ARC activities director, said even if the full amount can’t be raised for all three parts of the complex in time for installation this year, the group would like to move forward with the playground portion.
Although the group has conceptual drawings, finalizing the design of the complex will be part of the group’s focus in the next month, Kaiser said.
The group has decided on an oil and ag theme for the park. A couple of items on the ARC Park’s wish list include accessible swings and a “We Go Round.” The equipment is like a merry-go-round, but it is even with the ground and is accessible to wheelchairs.
The volunteers who are coordinating the fundraising for this project have already put hours and hours into the project, but Kathy McAdoo, ARC executive director, said the project has been a labor of love.
Meitner’s 5-year-old son, Abe, has Down syndrome and was a major motivator for her to pursue a park at which Abe and other children with disabilities could play.
However, Meitner noted there are other benefits to the community.
“We know through talking to other parents how they seek out other parks like this,” she said. “So when they are road tripping they can stop at a park because maybe their child can’t handle a restaurant. We know that it is going to attract people from outside of our community, and that is going to bring dollars to Hays.”
The park is designed to be used by all children and all adults. This means a child who may have broken a leg and is temporary disabled still has an opportunity to play, Meitner said. Parents and grandparents who might be disabled can access the park and playground equipment and play with their children and grandchildren.
Meitner said she also saw this as a model park for other communities.
“It’s a showpiece facility for our community,” Meitner said. “It is something that sets Hays apart — something that other communities will want to mimic. We have already gotten calls from other communities that have said, ‘How did you get where you are? We want this too.’ ”
Kaiser said, “We don’t want to be the only place like this in Kansas. Our goal is more places see it and want to do the exact same thing.”
Meitner added, “I would like to see accessible equipment in every park.”
Although the ARC Park is pushing on toward its fundraising goal, Meitner wanted to thank those people who have already donated. The Schmidt Foundation donated $100,000 and HaysMed donated $40,000. However, the park has had more than 250 individual donors.
Meitner said she wanted to especially thank the children and youth of the community who donated their pennies and nickels to the project.
“I want to thank all the kids in this community who had the heart to build this park,” she said.
Children have brought in the contents of their piggy banks, lemonade stand proceeds and tooth fairy money. Girl Scout and Boy Scout groups have donated money. A four-member Daisy Girl Scout troop recently donated $500 of their cookie money. TMP-Marian, HHS, Holy Family, Roosevelt, Lincoln and O’Loughlin students have all made donations to the park.
“I think it is the kids speaking up and saying, ‘We want this,’ ” McAdoo said. “They are setting an excellent example for the adults in our community.”
FHSU student groups have also conducted many fundraisers for the park this school year.
“We really like how it has brought all different parts of the community together with a common goal,” Meitner said. “I can’t help think that is going to instill in those kids a sense of pride, so when they are playing there they will want to take good care of the park, they will want to visit a lot and take some ownership in it.”
You can donate to the ARC Park by dropping a check by or mailing a check to the ARC office at 600 Main St., Hays, KS 67601. Please note the donation is for the ARC Park on the check. Donations can also be made online. A small fee is charged to the ARC Park for each online donation, so checks are preferred.