Community Architecture

Madison Avenue Central Park in Derby

How a Park is Born

The City of Derby purchased this 10-acre site in 2011 which was once a Catholic church, school, nunnery and rectory with a drainage ditch running through the east side of the property. It is located along an arterial thoroughfare and surrounded by residential neighborhoods. The City of Derby envisioned bolstering community pride and enriching residents’ quality of life by repurposing this area into a centrally located city park.

“Projects like this take time, due to budget cycles” comments Robert Mendoza, Director of Public Works for the City of Derby. At the time, the city had a policy to not buy private land, but when St. Mary’s moved, the highly visible location became an eyesore that spawned the idea of a city park.

In 2011, WDM’s team began planning with the city and construction began in the spring of 2015.

Goals for the Park

  • Evaluate existing buildings for conversion into revenue-generating event space

  • Provide versatile space for farmers markets, craft shows, festivals

  • Provide a new community landmark as a centerpiece for City’s Christmas Tree

  • Create an all-inclusive, accessible playground

  • Environmentally-friendly site design with informational graphics

  • Provide amphitheater and stage for small outdoor shows

  • Reinvigorate the central residential neighborhood

Madison Avenue Central Park in Derby Case Study by WDM Architects 1
Madison Avenue Central Park concept — art by SWT Design

Programming: Taking inventory

Gathering a team

As a means to gather public opinion and community involvement, the City of Derby formed a Park Advisory Committee comprised of Derby community members — 40 people from the Chamber, City Council, Senior Center and more — all organized by the Public Works Department. At that same time, WDM was hired to lead the effort to create Madison Avenue Central Park.


What to keep, what to throw away

As an analysis of the scope of work, WDM evaluated each of the five buildings on this site to determine their value and potential reuse with this park. In the end, only one building was selected to remain — the former school gymnasium.

The drainage channel on the east half of the site would have to stay. Managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, it was an eye-sore and but had a necessary function to manage storm water. The team would have to address this as a design challenge.

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One group breakout sessions surrounded by images used for inspiration and discussion.

Design Charettes: Collaboration and Brainstorming

“We were really looking for big dreams,” recalls Medoza about the initial ideas for the park. Stakeholders wanted “a new way of thinking, something unexpected for a small town, a big city feel, a broader scope of creativity,” says Mendoza. They found it with WDM and their preliminary design partner, SWT Design from St. Louis.

Over the next several months, WDM explored options with the Park Advisory Committee. In the early meetings, or design charettes, the group would examine images of existing parks for inspiration and to catalog lists of likes and dislikes. This helped the group to narrow down options to a list that could be implemented.

Later in the process, the team would split into smaller work groups. During these group breakout sessions, ideas would be formed, sketched and evolve. Then each group would present their ideas to the overall group for discussion and evaluation. Many ideas were generated and tested to find the perfect balance of open space and refined development. People began to visualize these elements coming together as part of the bigger picture. The best ideas became the basis for the park’s master plan.

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Design Development: The plan takes shape

WDM took the best design charette ideas and fleshed them out by creating renderings of the park as a tool for fundraising and community buy-in. “The 3D modeling by WDM was the tool we needed,” comments Mendoza, who became the park’s primary salesman at city meetings and events


Once people saw the park’s vision, they were onboard. The Derby Difference Sales Tax had been used to fund a new public library, generating approximately $2 million per year. The half-cent tax would be needed to move ahead with plans for Madsion Avenue Central Park. Voters approved the tax with a 67% majority.

Social media outreach

In addition to working with the park advisory group, WDM also engaged in a social media outreach campaign. We set up a Facebook page and updated it with renderings and drawings as they were developed, keeping the entire process transparent and inviting public conversation. We used Facebook’s analytics to track the visits to our site and see which posts received more or less attention than others. This format also allowed people who may have felt uncomfortable commenting in the public setting to provide their input. WDM posted construction updates and photos. The city now manages this page as a useful tool to keep the public updated and engaged in the park.

Construction Documents to Construction Administration

After the tax passed, WDM began the construction document phase. Construction began February 2015. Four buildings were demolished and the site graded.

Stewardship: Environmentally-friendly features

A floodplain that runs north to south along the eastern side of the site is a major feature of this park. The highly engineered city storm overflow channel is not intended to have water flowing all the time. The new park grading and design helps relieve some past upstream flooding concerns since storm waters are managed better with a positive water flow that prevents standing stagnant pools.

The Pavilion and playground have an adjacent parking lot that accommodates 200 cars. Flush curbing with wheel stops allows water to flow to the bioswale. Runoff is also slowed with permeable surfaces and ‘rain garden,’ or bioswale, between parking stalls. Bioswales provide the added benefit of filtering pollutants from the runoff before it drains into the main storm channel.


Tree City USA

Signage with species I.D. for the 28 different kinds of hale trees planted in the park. Signage will serve to educate the public when choosing trees to plant on their own properties. Derby is a “Tree City USA” town.

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Monument Entrance and Footbridges

Madison Avenue Central Park Entrance features a monument sign wall that carefully arches inward to the park, with a trellis framing the Pavilion in the background. There are multiple access points to this site, with each one carefully crafted to provide views across the site and frame important elements.

The transformed drainage ditch is now modified to provide a more natural creek environment through the use of native plantings and footbridges.
The two 70–foot–long bridges were constructed off-site and delivered intact, requiring a crane to set in place. Bridges are a bowstring truss design with 8-foot wide walking path. These bridges have limestone columns flanking them to create contrast and highlight the bridges.

Under-bridge lighting on both bridges enhances the site aesthetically and provides security.

“This is the first lighted pathway for Derby,” notes Mendoza. “We wanted the park to be a place for everyone, and now shift workers can have a place to walk at night.” The walking trails of the park are tied into the Derby trails system.

Open air theater: The Amphitheater

The Amphitheater is designed as a series of stone-capped seating walls terraced down the slope from the east side of the Venue into the open field below. Concrete steps are installed to facilitate navigating the area. Fabric sails provide shade for the performers on-stage.

New event venue: The Pavilion

Initially, public opinion was skeptical that Derby could use more rent-able event spaces. However, four years after opening, Mendoza points out they “are necessary and well used.” He proudly points to the fact “almost all venues are booked for two years in advance, and we received triple the income we expected from them.”

The Pavilion is a multi-functional space available to rent for a smaller event (seating approx. 150 at tables). It has folding glass doors on both sides that can open during nice weather to bring the fresh outdoor air in. This building is also set at the highest point of the site, with a large “water wall” at its base. Wrapped in glass, this venue provides spectacular views in all directions.

Mixing water and light: The Splash Pad

The splash pad is approximately 30 feet in diameter and sits adjacent to the Pavilion. It is a sculptural feature intended to be fun for kids of all ages to play in. The nozzles can be choreographed to create different motions. Each jet has its own LED light that can produce multiple color options, which adds to the excitement at night.

The Pavilion’s patio also has a giant chess set.


The Waterwall

Immediately to the east of the Pavilion, the waterwall establishes the Pavilion as a significant venue, and offers an elevated view of the park from the patio above. The 8–foot–tall by 70–foot–long tapered wall, covered in limestone, includes three different 8–foot–wide sections where water flows out of the upper trough and down the limestone wall creating a whitewater effect. Lighting at the base of the wall creates a dramatic look at night.

A place to play: Playground and Sensory Art Wall

The play area is an all-inclusive playground for children of all ages and abilities. From children with sensory challenges to wheelchair users, this park engages them all. This playground is not flat. Its ups and downs are meant to challenge every muscle group.

“Creating ADA accessibilty is expensive, but it brings value to everyone” says Mendoza with pride in his voice. “Have you ever seen an ADA-accessible playground that isn’t flat? I haven’t.”

Local artist Tina Murano has crafted an interactive wall covered in sensory stimulating textures and color as a glimpse into the underground. It is about 50-feet long by 8-feet tall and frames the playground on the west.

A gym gets a new life: The Venue

WDM repurposed the old school gymnasium building into a beautiful space designed for weddings and wedding receptions. Renovations included removing the former stage and installing a catering kitchen, a bride’s room and groom’s room. The upper mezzanine was transformed into a “main street.” The Venue will seat approximately 350 people at tables.

WDM designed an outdoor garden space named “The Fireside” This unique space includes a fireplace set in a sweeping limestone wall with a trellis, creating the perfect spot for relaxing, or as a backdrop for wedding photography.

Measure of Success

Madison Avenue Central Park has become “the standard for all Derby Parks moving forward,” states Mendoza. “We are not going to do less on other parks.”

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Project Overview

Project Location:

Derby, KS

Year Completed:


Madison Avenue Central Park Portfolio Project

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