Politics & Government

Future of Buffalo Park put on hold

A City Council vote on a splash park at Buffalo Park has been put on hold while the council reviews the project.
A City Council vote on a splash park at Buffalo Park has been put on hold while the council reviews the project. Courtesy illustration

The City Council has delayed a decision on whether to give west Wichita its first interactive splash park.

Improvements to Buffalo Park, which is near Central and Maize Road, have been on a list of the city’s capital improvement projects for years.

But some City Council members said Tuesday that the first they heard about the specific proposal was through The Eagle on Sunday.

Mayor Carl Brewer then asked the city manager whether his staff could refresh the council on these kinds of projects before they come up in the media.

Council agendas and city documents related to items on the agenda are typically posted on the city’s website the Friday before each meeting.

Council member Pete Meitzner said he liked the ideas behind the Buffalo Park project but that he was caught by surprise and didn’t have a solid understanding of other park priorities.

Making decisions on funding is awkward without knowing the bigger picture, he said.

Council member Jeff Longwell, who represents west Wichita in District 5, and the parks board have been developing the project in Buffalo Park for several years.

The project, which Park and Recreation Department director Troy Houtman estimates at about $1 million, would include a splash park, additional sports fields, enhancements to the current baseball field and a walking path around the park in addition to improved access to the park from Maize Road to help ease congestion in surrounding neighborhoods.

It does not include paving over trails, which was part of a misunderstanding over the weekend when hundreds of cross-country runners and their supporters signed an online petition that encouraged people to “Say No to Paving Buffalo Park. Say no to the City of Wichita to create a Splash Park/Skate Park where Buffalo Park exists off of Central and Maize.”

Council members said they wanted to wait and hear whether the city will receive grants for the project before they decide to move forward. The grant announcement should be made in the next couple of weeks, Houtman told the council.

The council could vote on the project in early February.

If the council approves the project, construction at the park could start in March at the earliest, said Bryan Frye, park board president.

“The reality is there hasn’t been any money really spent in the last six or seven years out west for our parks,” Longwell said.

Splash park plans

The interactive water feature’s design is based on prairie themes, with sculptures and plants to represent native grasses, according to city documents.

Kansas City-based Ochsner Hare & Hare is finalizing construction plans for the site, which include the interactive water feature, a restroom and shelter building and a parking lot, according to city documents.

If there is enough money, the former fishing pond, which was drained because of algae and drainage problems, will be turned into a bicycle pump track. The track would use “the terrain of the pond bottom to create a continuous loop of rolling bumps and banked corners which will allow riders to use their bodies to create forward momentum without pedaling,” according to city documents.

In 2011, hundreds of fish died in the pond when it leaked, water evaporated and it had an algae infestation.

The pond had previously been a sewage lagoon.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

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