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Russell – Where generations care for each other

May 19, 2022

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Russell is more than just the hometown of Senator Bob Dole and a Main Street City. It is a community of 4,400 people who take care of each other. Part of the city’s vision is to be “a community that is truly dedicated to family, friends and neighbors where generations care for each other.” Russell is doing just that with its recent parks project completed in April 2022 with the assistance of a Community Development Block Grant. 

Katrina Woelk serves as the Finance Director and Treasurer for the City of Russell and has also been the local champion for the CDBG parks project. In addition to her daily city duties, Katrina has been putting together an asset management plan for Russell. This plan outlines the assets of the community and determines how those assets can be leveraged to address the greatest needs of the community. As a result, Russell pursued the parks project for CDBG under the Community Facilities and Services category.  The city determined  that it would make a big impact for many in the community and also make their local contribution go farther.  In 2021, Russell applied for and received a grant in the amount of $116,228 from CDBG to replace playground equipment across three community parks. Despite attempts to keep up with the maintenance of the existing park equipment by painting and sealing structures, the 40+ year old structures at these three parks had deteriorated to a point where they needed to be replaced for safety reasons. The CDBG funds were matched with $116,229 of local contribution, bringing the total project cost to $232,457. City crews removed and disposed of the existing playground equipment and completed ground preparation, excavation and installation of ground cover.   

Bickerdyke Park is known for its art in the park so musical play equipment was added a few years ago. Outdated and unsafe swings were replaced, and slides were installed to go along with a large play structure. Outdoor recreational equipment geared toward seniors was added to the park, including an assisted trainer, assisted side-step trainer and a skilled trainer. This park, located next to senior housing apartments, features a walking trail around the perimeter. The park equipment was designed for an age range from early childhood to senior adults, resulting in a mixture of generations.

Parents and grandparents can walk laps around the trail or use the recreational equipment while their children play. Water Tower Park received a large new play structure and is located in an area that serves low-income residents. Fossil Creek Park has a natural creek that runs through the middle of the park. The Russell Rotary Club raised money and had a bridge placed across the creek in August of 2020 so that patrons of the park could cross the creek and enjoy both sides of the park. The park now includes nature-themed equipment with adventure activities and play structures, including a zip line. This park features an early childhood area specifically for ages 6 months to 5 years.

The greatest challenges that Russell faced with this project were supply chain issues and getting equipment on time. Equipment orders were placed in September of 2021 and were set to arrive in October, however, it started showing up in January 2022, piece by piece. Not all of the pieces for each part of the equipment showed up together, causing assembly delays. For other communities considering a similar project, Katrina shared some advice: “Do your research on equipment and be flexible in your expectations of what exactly you will end up going with, because the bidding process can result in a different piece of equipment. You should also be prepared to deal with changes due to supply chain issues, too.” 

Fortunately, most pieces arrived by March 2022 and the City of Russell did not delay getting the equipment assembled quickly, making the updated parks available for the community in April. While there were challenges with the project, the effort and the investment have been worth it for the community of Russell. 

Children now have a fun, safe outdoor play area with modern playground equipment. “The response has been pure excitement that the parks are updated with new equipment,” said Katrina. “The parks are overwhelmed with children and it is great to see so many kids out playing. Since opening in April, the parks are busy every evening and weekend.” 

This successful CDBG park project is just one of several CDBG projects that Russell has completed. The City recently finished a waterline replacement project, replaced the tennis courts at Memorial Park, and assisted for-profit businesses with Coronavirus funding. The City of Russell has a successful partnership with the Northwest Kansas Planning & Development Commission (NWKP&DC) of Hill City. Corina Cox, Grant Administrator with NWKP&DC, has assisted Russell with this and numerous other CDBG grant applications and administration of their funded projects.  Russell has been very successful with the CDBG program due to hard work, accuracy, diligence in project oversight, and follow through of CDBG requirements. Not every project is easy, but Corina notes that the City is a capable partner, which makes her job much easier. This year, Russell received another grant to resurface Highway 40, a necessary transportation route for the community. The City is also working on a downtown restroom, park and splash pad area, as well as replacing deteriorated equipment at Castle Park with a more sustainable structure. As they make these projects a priority and create plans that result in action, the community of Russell will continue to take care of each other and thrive.

If your community is interested in exploring funding options to support quality of life projects in the areas of trails, recreation, sidewalks or parks, please reach out to Ginny Eardley ([email protected]) or visit our website at Kansascommerce.gov/Community.