Outdoor spaces have grown more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the city of Hutchinson is taking steps to make them more attractive.
Wichita State University’s Community Engagement Institute helped by working with the City of Hutchinson and Hutchinson Parks and Recreation on its Pathways to a Healthy Kansas grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas. The city and the recreation commission used the money to pay for a parks-and-recreation master plan.
The plan targeted Bernard White Park, which scored lowest for amenities and improvements in the master plan, as one of the prime places in need of updates and a better connection to its neighborhood.
“We listened to people and what they wanted was the first step,” said Sean Thomas, assistant director of parks and facilities. “Key to the park development is the engagement with neighbors and citizens in the area. We started with that engagement and got ideas about certain park amenities that people prefer.”
Plans include a shelter for gatherings, an enlarged basketball court, pedestrian lighting, a drinking fountain and a paved connection to a nearby walking trail.
“Having water at the site will just extend people’s stay, or it might invite someone from the trail,” Thomas said. “You want to activate the space. The more active it is, the busier it is, the safer it is, the more people become attached to it.”
The Community Engagement Institute’s role is to help groups with plans and work with citizens to solicit and understand their input. Executive director Scott Wituk worked with the group during the grant cycle, helped connect it with resources, and use peer networking and community engagement to help get plans launched.
“Scott has been our go-to person. That’s who we bounced idea off of,” said Laurie Carr, Reno County supervisor for Health, Education and Promotion.
Pathways to a Healthy Kansas is the largest community grant program funded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas. Since Pathways began in 2016, BCBSKS has donated more than $11.7 million in grants and assistance to communities.
Hutchinson Recreation Commission
Wichita State’s Community Engagement Institute has been a partner in the initiative since 2016. CEI’s work includes a variety of approaches such as in-person community meetings, monthly conference calls, online learning sessions, as well as helping to plan and facilitate statewide meetings.
“Residents in Kansas communities want to see their communities be successful,” Wituk said. “By and large, when you get communities talking about what they want to see for the future, there’s a lot of agreement out there.”
Pathways to a Healthy Kansas projects focus on active living, healthy eating and tobacco prevention. The grants may help connect walking trails within a city to make them more accessible or help a small grocery store upgrade refrigeration capacity to offer healthy foods.
“CEI works with those Healthy Kansas coalitions to make decisions, navigate some of the discussions they have with potential residents, government, business owners to determine where they want to go forward,” Wituk said. “Reno County and Hutchinson decided one of the areas it wanted to focus on was a park. We helped them look at the data, what is happening in their community, the demographics. Then we help facilitate the discussions.”
Hutchinson used their Pathways grant and CEI’s guidance to fund their master plan and initial implementation. The Hutchinson Recreation Commission used a $100,000 Pathways grant to hire GreenPlay, a Colorado firm that specializes in parks and recreation spaces, to help develop the master plan.
“That was really the springboard we needed,” said Amy Conkling, director of marketing and development for the Hutchinson Recreation Commission. “We were able to get that data and show our community, and show our residents, how low Bernard White Park ranked. We knew that, being parks and rec professionals, but we needed someone else to come and do that study, do that data collection and show the community that this was needed."