How a KU class and local advocates helped build an ADA-accessible platform at Wells Overlook Park

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Thanks to a $44,000 state grant, Douglas County accessibility advocates, and help from a third-year architecture class at the University of Kansas, an ADA-accessible viewing platform is now complete at Wells Overlook Park.

Ken Lassman, an occupational therapist and accessibility advocate in Douglas County, began a push several years ago to construct a wheelchair-accessible viewing platform for the sprawling park. Beyond his work, Lassman had a special interest in expanding access to the land as his grandfather, William Wells, donated it to the county in 1971.

The first time the county applied for a grant, it wasn’t clear whether it could match the grant funds, so the project had to be put on hold, Lassman said. This year, after teaming up with Dirt Works Studio — a third-year class in the University of Kansas School of Architecture and Design — and Douglas County Public Works, the grant application with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism was successful.

The application, Lassman said, was also aided by a letter-writing campaign from area wheelchair users describing how much an accessible platform would help. Previously, Wells Overlook had only a tower with stairs to climb.

“We finally started working, and that was a whole process of coming up with designs and making presentations to different people,” Lassman said. “Well, they started building it, and that took a lot longer because COVID hit, which kind of made it lay off the teams of people doing work together … Long story short, it got finished and I think it’s a really cool thing.”

Chad Kraus has overseen Dirt Works Studio at KU since 2012, and typically the students in his studios work over the course of a semester to design and build pavilion-type structures. In more recent years, the class has worked on interior renovations on KU’s campus, but Kraus said he wanted to back to working on pavilions.

“And so I just reached out to Douglas County Public Works on a whim, really, and asked them, ‘Hey, do you think there’d be some opportunity for some collaboration?'” Kraus said. “We agreed that if the grant came through that we would work together together on the project.”

Getting KU students practical experience of any kind is important throughout an architecture and design education, Kraus said, but making the Wells Overlook pavilion ADA-accessible allowed students to work collaboratively and added more components that will benefit them during the rest of their education.

Wells Overlook is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. It is located 3/4 mile east of US-59 on the south side of County Route 458 (North 1000 Road).

Conner Mitchell (he/him), reporter, can be reached at cmitchell (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-435-9264. If you have sensitive information to send Conner, please email connermitchell (at) protonmail (dot) com. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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