From the Kansas City Star: Plans for Overland Park Arboretum include new visitors center, bigger sculpture garden

By Roxie Hammill

Special to The Star

A big expansion of the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens is in the works, possibly beginning by 2020 if the funding can be secured.

Arboretum and Overland Park officials are discussing a $12.4 million building plan that would add a new visitors center adjacent to a pond, expand parking, and create a bigger sculpture garden that will eventually cover 250 of the arboretum’s 620 acres.

The plan also includes a new pond, event terraces, lawn improvements and expanded parking for 200 more vehicles.

City Council members have added the arboretum’s plan to the items being considered on the city’s five-year capital improvements budget. There will be public hearings on that budget at the city Planning Commission on March 13 and before the full City Council on March 20.

Council members discussed funding at a committee meeting Monday.

Plans for the arboretum improvements have been in the works for about a year but have been kept relatively quiet up to now as details were being worked out, said Vicki Lilly, executive director of the Arts and Recreation Foundation, which raises funds for the arboretum.

The group has drawn up a plan whose centerpiece will be a 22,000-square-foot new visitors center adjacent to a pond. The two-level center will feature gardens and terraces as well as event space with a catering kitchen and dining room for up to 200 people.

The new visitors center will have classroom space and a gift shop, Lilly said. The building currently being used as a visitors center is about 4,500 square feet and was originally intended as educational space. Once the new center is built, that building will return to use for classes and field trips.

The sculpture garden improvements are a long-range plan to make the gardens the largest in the region, covering 250 acres. The 24 pieces in the existing collection that were originally given from China will be the centerpiece of the new sculpture garden.

Phase 1 of the sculpture garden plan, which is the part now being discussed, calls for an outdoor amphitheater for 800, three- quarters of a mile of paved trails, pond restoration and an open- air pavilion. Subsequent phases would add more trails and sculptures.

The city owns the arboretum, but funding for the project would rely mostly on the efforts of the arboretum foundation. The council committee approved a city commitment of about $2.4 million. But that only happens if the arboretum can privately raise $10 million on its own.

So far, the arboretum has raised about $4 million. The remainder would be needed by the end of 2019 to keep the plan viable as it is, Lilly said.

The arboretum, located at 8909 W. 179th St., opened in 1990 and is visited by 147,000 people a year.