This story was published on the Missourian on July 19, 2016. You can access the article here or read below.

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COLUMBIA — Mirajia Staten walks her 13-year-old cousin Aydryana Hosey half a mile to McKee Street Park almost every other day. Aydryana loves the swings, but Staten, 24, doesn’t want her to go to the park alone.

Two summers ago, a 17-year-old boy was shot and killed at McKee Street Park. Paula and Robert Schneider, who have lived near the park for eight years. They said they’ve seen drug sales occurring there and believe it needs to be safer.

The 4.7-acre park shows its age. The playground, 25 years old, no longer complies with safety regulations. One of the plastic slides is chipped, and the reds, greens and yellows of the monkey bars and jungle gym have faded.

Starting in August, the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department will begin renovating the park. The plan calls for a new shelter, playground and bridge that connects the playground to a basketball court. The project is expected to be complete by spring.

McKee Street Park is located in one of three neighborhoods the city has selected for a social equity initiative to reduce poverty and social and economic disparity through projects that increase access to health care and promote healthy eating, active living and participation in outdoor and cultural activities.

Staten welcomes the plans for the neighborhood park. “I left Columbia in 2012 and came back this May,” she said. “When I left, I said that the park needed updates. It needs them even more now.”

Staten said she sometimes helps her mom at Dusk to Dawn and Days Too Child Care Center, which is located in their home on Waterloo Drive, and they sometimes bring the children to the park.

“It’s not sanitary,” she said. “We always have Germ-X because you never know if someone has peed on the slide.”

In addition to the new shelter, playground and bridge, the plan includes repaving the concrete trail that circles the playground, putting in new bike racks, clearing overgrown bushes and trees and installing more lights as requested by nearby residents.

Most of the $75,000 project, financed with the 2015 park sales tax, will be completed by Parks and Recreation staff. Parks Service Manager Gabe Huffington said McKee Street Park, one of numerous city parks benefiting from the tax, was an obvious choice.

“We looked at all the parks in the city, and then narrowed that down to the oldest parks,” Huffington said. “McKee seemed right. It has some issues like an unsafe 25-year-old playground, sidewalks that don’t follow ADA guidelines and a bridge with aging infrastructure.”

The city parks department would like to see most of the parks have a shelter, and McKee doesn’t have one, Huffington said. “The park has no central place to gather and meet.”

The new shelter will have four picnic tables, an ADA drinking fountain and a grill.

About 30 residents gathered at the park on May 18 to give feedback on the plans. Huffington said the reaction was “overwhelmingly positive.” Extra lights were added after residents at the meeting suggested the idea to extend the park’s hours.

Paula and Robert Schneider hope new lighting and clearing brush and foliage will also make the park more visible and improve safety.

“Older people are excited for the drugs to go away,” Paula Schneider said. “The younger people are excited for a new playground to play on.”

Hanging out with friends at the park, Khamoni Hyler, 11, welcomed more swings and new playground equipment. “I think more people will come to the park,” she said.

Kee’on Marshall and Jamarrion Pittman, both 10, were shooting hoops with their friends and said they want a better basketball court and more water fountains.

When the plans were approved July 5, Third Ward City Councilman Karl Skala thanked Parks and Recreation for including the project in his ward. “I’m proud of our city for paying some attention to some of these under-served areas,” he said. “This has been long in coming.”

Supervising editor is John Schneller.