The right project. The right place. The right time.

That's how Independence Parks and Recreation Department Director Eric Urfer best summarized the McCoy Park Inclusive Play Project to the City Council.

The right project. The right place. The right time.

That's how Independence Parks and Recreation Department Director Eric Urfer best summarized the McCoy Park Inclusive Play Project to the City Council.

As the playground and ball field project officially started on Monday evening, city officials received another piece of unexpected news: The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation will provide $100,000 for the project that is expected to cost roughly $1.4 million.

Round after round of applause was provided as each partner described his or her role in a project with the tag line, “Because every child deserves a chance to play.”

The 2010 Parks and Recreation master plan update process identified “a glaring, unfulfilled need,” Urfer said. Jackson County has more children living with disabilities than any other county in the metropolitan region, Urfer said, including about 1,500 children in Independence.

“Unfortunately, we also learned that we were extremely lacking in truly accessible play spaces,” he said.

The Parks Department put 2017 on its calendar for building an all-inclusive playground.
But that target date didn’t last for long.

Beginning in February and continuing throughout this fall, Urfer and his staff developed a series of relationships with Unlimited Play, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building inclusive playgrounds accessible to all children; Vireo, a landscape architecture and community planning firm that donated its services to the McCoy Park project; the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation; and Variety the Children’s Charity of Greater Kansas City.
Early this spring, the completion date for the project was moved up to 2015.
“That’s where it sat for about three weeks,” Urfer said.

Chad Mitchell, an agent with State Farm on Noland Road, called Urfer one day with news of a nationwide grant competition that State Farm was sponsoring. Forty projects would each receive $25,000, and Mitchell asked Urfer if he had any projects to propose.

He did. The McCoy Park “Play With No Boundaries” project was one of 100 projects selected from 3,000 applications. Through a Facebook campaign known as Cause An Effect, McCoy Park made the top 40 and received $25,000.

“Within nine months, the partners were in place,” Urfer said. “The plans were ready. The momentum was ours. The project had moved up five years.”

The park will include a large-scale inclusive playground, with separate areas for children ages 2 to 5 and for those ages 5 to 12. Renovations to the ball field will make it an inclusive baseball/softball small multipurpose ability field, with improved parking accessibility.

Urfer’s own daughter, Blue Springs High School freshman Mickey Urfer, became heavily involved in the project, too, as part of her school’s COMPASS Community Service Program. During a design brainstorming meeting in August, Mickey thought of Independence’s designation as “the Queen City of the Trails,” and she incorporated that as a theme for the new playground.

“We thought it would be great if kids – all kids – could travel along the Three Trails, but really be on a playground,” Mickey said.

The ability field also will tie into the trails theme, said Chuck Brady, foundation vice president for the Baltimore-based Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, in addition to including shorter fences and larger dugouts.

“The name alone is unique and is one we kind of coined a couple of years ago,” Brady said of ability fields. “A lot of folks call these fields ‘miracle fields.’ We don’t think it’s a miracle that these kids are out there – we want to give them an opportunity to show off their abilities, what they can do, and not focus on what they can’t do.”

Fundraising efforts for the playground and ball field are ongoing, and community members can visit for more information. Recently, a $40,000 donation took place through Variety the Children’s Charity of Kansas City, and those funds will go toward the playground’s first two swing sets.

“I think you’re about to set a precedent for other cities to think about including every single member in their community,” said Deborah Wiebrecht, Variety’s executive director.

Herself the mother of a son with development delays and special needs, District 1 Council Member Marcie Gragg called the project “a gemstone,” adding, “It’s literally right in my backyard.”

Mayor Don Reimal said the project is a model of what needs to be done and that “disability” is a word that needs to be shelved and replaced with conversations about all children’s abilities.

“If this doesn’t touch your heart,” he said, “then maybe you need to go check if you have one.”