Sep 02

Cliff Middleton to retire from planning and development department in mid-September

Posted on September 2, 2021 at 3:34 PM by Becky Burnside

During his more than 34 years with JCPRD, Planning and Development Manager Cliff Middleton has been part of planning and opening a wide variety and surprising number of parks and facilities. Middleton will retire on Sept. 17.

“JCPRD and the entire Johnson County community has greatly benefited from Cliff’s contributions, service, and leadership for over three decades,” said JCPRD Executive Director Jeff Stewart. “Always with our constituents in mind and involved, JCPRD’s planning efforts led by Cliff and his team have shaped a park and recreation system that is nationally recognized and highly appreciated by Johnson County citizens. Cliff’s commitment to taking care of existing assets while developing new parks and facilities has allowed for sustainable growth. As we celebrate Cliff’s legendary career with JCPRD, we are committed to continuing his legacy.”

“As I drive from park to park and facility to facility, I am in awe at the legacy that Cliff is leaving across this entire county,” added Deputy Director Travis Buell. “His impact and contributions are visible everywhere you go. He is a true professional, and will leave huge shoes to fill here at JCPRD.” 

Middleton has been planning and development manager since April 2008. Prior to that promotion, he had served as landscape architect since he was hired in February 1987. A graduate of Southwest High School in Kansas City, Middleton holds a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from Kansas State University. Before coming to JCPRD, he worked as a landscape architect for the city of Olathe from 1985 to 1987, and as a planning technician for the city of Overland Park from 1983 to 1984.

Cliff Middleton 1989

As planning and development manager, Middleton is responsible for all aspects of implementing JCPRD’s capital improvement plan, from planning and design through bid documents, project management and construction administration. He oversees a staff of five project managers. 

“JCPRD has been an agency that gets parks, trails, and playgrounds built,” he said. “So the most fun is seeing a project through to reality. The projects are rarely the same so there is always the opportunity to learn something new.”

Middleton’s many accomplishments with JCPRD include the recent openings of a number of new parks including Kill Creek Park, Big Bull Creek Park, Lexington Lake Park, Meadowbrook Park, and Cedar Niles Park which is currently partially open and expected to be completed by the end of the year.  Other projects he was involved with have included the Shawnee Mission Park Beach House which opened in 2018, the Coffee Creek Streamway Trail which opened in 2017, the New Century Fieldhouse which opened in 2011, the Tomahawk Hills Golf Course Clubhouse Building which opened in 2010, two phases of improvements to Antioch Park which took place from 2003 to 2005, multiple improvements to the Theatre in the Park, development of Kill Creek Park which opened in 2001, development of the Roeland Park Aquatic center in association with the city of Roeland Park and which opened in 1998, and initial development of Heritage Park Golf Course which opened in 1989, and Heritage Soccer Park, which opened in 1988.

Of the many projects he has been involved with, Middleton said he is proudest of JCPRD’s two inclusive playgrounds which opened in 2018 at Stilwell Community Park and in 2019 at Shawnee Mission Park. 

“The inclusive playgrounds involved such a good planning process with great input from the advisory group,” he said. “I learned a lot, and the public embraced those playgrounds in such a big way. There were great crowds at the ribbon cutting ceremonies, and the playgrounds are still getting well used.”

Stilwell Community Park Inclusive Playground

Asked why he has stayed at JCPRD as long as he has, Middleton credits his coworkers.

“The Planning and Development Department staff are such talented people that bring great ideas and insight to the work we do,” he said. “My success and many of the projects I am most proud of are a direct result of the hard work and creativity of PDD team. JCPRD’s leadership team has also been wonderful to work with. We have always had honest and open discussions even when we don’t all agree on a particular topic. The culture here is to always improve what we do as departments and as an agency. I have seen lots of changes at JCPRD in 34 years. Most has been good and has made us a better more professional organization. I will miss my many friends and coworkers here at JCPRD.”

He also commented on what he sees as JCPRD’s greatest strength and challenges. 

“We care about the quality of our parks and facilities,” he said. “It shows in the projects we’ve built and it shows in how well the parks and facilities are maintained. The public knows they are going to have a good experience at our parks and at our programs. The challenge will be meeting the demand for new parks and trails while continuing to maintain, repair and replace our existing facilities, as the population in Johnson County will continue to grow and that will result in more stress and wear on our parks.”

Middleton said he is looking forward to some ambitious retirement plans. 

“I am hoping to ride my bike more than 4,000 miles next year,” he said. “It has been many years since I rode more than 1,500 to 2,000 in a year, work does get in the way of fun. My wife Liz and I also want to travel more and hopefully we can do that starting next year. I want to do some backpacking trips and canoe trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. I would also like to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, the Village Church Food Pantry, Urban Trail Co., and help with native prairie seed collection. There is also a long list of house projects, so my challenge may be if I can really get to all of this.”

Sep 02

Family of Arthur and Betty Verhaeghe donate funds to honor their memory and farming heritage

Posted on September 2, 2021 at 3:32 PM by Becky Burnside

After formally being dedicated in October 2020, Arthur and Betty Verhaeghe Park, located at 11401 W 167th St. in Overland Park, is already getting a major playground expansion, thanks to the Verhaeghe family, which donated the 42-acre property for the park. 

“They (the Verhaeghe family) requested the consideration of an expansion of the playground and they asked us to have it designed and get quotes, and via a board-approved agreement, the family had an input on the design and agreed to reimburse JCPRD for the cost of the installation,” explained JCPRD Superintendent of Parks and Golf Courses Bill Maasen. “It more than doubles the square footage of the playground.”

While the park’s original playground was primarily for ages five to 12, the expansion adds equipment for ages two to four.  A swing set is also being added, and will have two standard swings, a toddler swing, and a child-sized accessible swing. A specific date for the opening of the playground expansion hasn’t been set but the project is under way and will open this fall.

The Verhaeghe’s three children recently took time to comment on the playground expansion project.

“It's been gratifying to see so many children and families enjoying the park so we felt like it was a good time to add some additional playground equipment that could be used by even more families,” said the Verhaeghe’s son, Gordon Verhaeghe. “Our parents loved their family and this land, and we felt a park and playground where families could gather and enjoy time together was a wonderful way to honor their memory. We all have such wonderful childhood memories and appreciate how fortunate we were to grow up on this land. We have enjoyed the beauty of this land and wanted to preserve a piece of that for future generations to enjoy.”

“Our families have been to the existing playground,” added the Verhaeghe’s daughter, Anita Felzke. “We enjoyed it and especially the tractor climber and overall farm theme.  We like that there's almost always someone there on the playground when we've gathered at the shelter nearby or walked by on the streamway trail.  We feel that would really make our parents happy that children are enjoying it!” 

Verhaeghe Park Playground Expansion B

“It is so heartwarming to be walking along the trail and hear from a distance the children's laughter as they are playing on the playground,” said the Verhaeghe’s other son, Mel Verhaeghe.

The playground expansion continues the farm theme adopted for the original portion of the playground as requested by the Verhaeghe family to honor their nearly 100-year history of farming and raising bedding plants in the area. There’s a barn façade at the top of the new climber, similar to that of the original climber; a piece of play equipment shaped like a cow was selected to represent the Verhaeghe’s cattle operation; and detailing on the top ends of the new swing sets will represent shocks of wheat. 

In association with staff at the Johnson County Museum, JCPRD is also developing an interpretive panel for the site about the importance of agriculture in Johnson County with a spotlight on the Verhaeghe family.

“The sign will help explain how our grandfather’s hard work paid off,” said Mel Verhaeghe. “He moved to the farm in 1919 and survived the hard times of the 1930s with a family and expanded the operation. So we look at the sign with pride and hope that when people read it they will appreciate the challenges of farming. Farming has changed over the last one hundred years. We grew up in that environment of a very diversified farm.  The income from the farm came from many sources. We had the hotbeds (selling the bedding plants) as well as crops of corn, beans, and wheat, as well as livestock of cattle, hogs, poultry and eggs, as well as vegetables of asparagus, rhubarb, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and potatoes.  It wasn't hard work but very busy and demanding.”

In another nod to the Verhaeghe family’s agricultural heritage, development of community gardens at Verhaeghe Park is expected to take place this winter.

“It will be rentable space for individuals interested in having a garden plot,” Maasen said. 

Procedures and forms for applying for garden space have yet to be developed, but watch for an announcement about the garden in late winter. 

Verhaeghe Park Shelter

The 42-acrea Arthur and Betty Verhaeghe Park has an 11-acre developed area which encompasses the farm-themed playground as well as a picnic shelter, drinking fountain, parking, a large open play field, and a portable restroom. The park also serves as an access point for the Coffee Creek Streamway Park, which opened in October 2017 and currently stretches 3.4 miles from a western access near Shelters 9 and 10 in Heritage Park, to Switzer Road. The new park sits near the midway point of the streamway trail.

Aug 31

Beginners can try out ideas, learn new techniques and concepts, and enjoy creating art

Posted on August 31, 2021 at 4:36 PM by Becky Burnside

The idea that no one is too old to learn and grow is behind a new series of four art workshops being offered for 50 Plus during September and October.

“I would like people to allow themselves to be beginners, be open to all possibilities, take baby steps into trying out new ideas, and fully enjoy the chance to explore new ways of doing things,” said instructor Margery Chandler. “This series of art workshops is a sampler - a chance to try new techniques and to experience the sheer joy of the process of creating something. There are no hard and fast rules to what makes someone an artist.”

Chandler’s four workshops are: Elements of Art on Sept. 20, Collage on Sept. 27, Art of Play on Oct. 4, and Who Am I? on Oct. 18. Each workshop will take place from 9:30 a.m. to Noon on a Monday at the Matt Ross Community Center, 8101 Marty St., Overland Park. The cost for each 2.5 hour session is $15 for person for Johnson County resident or $17 per person for nonresidents. 

“I have always been an artist,” Chandler said. “I am also a retired art educator. I believe I have lots of ideas and skills to share. I moved to Kansas City, Mo., last summer and became involved in the local art community. I realized I missed sharing my art knowledge, and teaching these workshops was a good opportunity to share my skills with new students! I am a mixed media artist and display my work at the Images Art Gallery.” 

In Elements of Art, participants will be introduced to the seven basic building blocks of learning art, which are: color, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value.

“During this workshop we will create a series of small artworks that explores each of these elements,” Chandler said. 

These projects include: a color wheel; a picture using mannequins as a starting point to explore form; short exercises demonstrating the variety of lines used by artists; paper collages to explore shapes; various rubbings to demonstrate texture; and working with a pencil to make a value chart.

Woman painting a fall scene with watercolors

The Collage workshop will explore a mixed media technique where various papers and other materials are glued to a background to create an artwork. 

“There are no limits to the combination of materials and the final outcome,” Chandler said. “It could be realistic or abstract; cut out or torn. Other art techniques can be added to it, paint, markers, feathers, beads, photographs, etc. We will make several different collages exhibiting variations of color, shapes; words and/or numbers; and a mixed collage of whatever you would like to create.”

The Art as Play workshop will let participants look at works from artists like Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee.

“These artists often created very child-like pieces, they were playful and unafraid to make a ‘mistake,’” Chandler said. “What techniques and materials did you like to create as a child? The possible exercises to explore will consist of: printmaking, painting, coloring, and drawing. Join in for a session of creating art for the sheer joy of the experience.”

The final workshop, Who am I?, will allow would be artists to create a unique self-portrait in the style of their choice. 

Chandler asked “will you look in a mirror in front of you or in the fantasy mirror inside of your mind? Are you a superhero, a creature, an abstract image, or pieces of important objects in your life? Every portrait will be as original as YOU are! We will look at actual artist portraits and do a series of warm-up drawing exercises, and then work on the individual self-portraits.”

While JCPRD’s 50 Plus programs are primarily for people who are age 50 or older, interested parties who have not yet reached that magic age may still be able to attend. Persons 18 and older who are interested in a 50 Plus class are invited to call the 50 Plus Department at (913) 826-2975 for space availability.