The Vernonia City Council held a workshop on Friday February 1, 2013 to discuss the proposed Rose Avenue Project, which would help relocate three social service facilities within the Vernonia community.
The Council met with representatives from the Vernonia Health Board, the Vernonia Senior Center, and the Vernonia Cares Food Bank. All three organizations suffered damage in the 2007 flood and are interested in moving their facilities out of the flood zone.
The City of Vernonia controls a piece of property between Rose and Weed Avenues at Cougar Street, next to the new West Oregon Electric Cooperative headquarters that is large enough to house all three facilities that are considering relocating.
The City and the three stakeholders need to create a joint site plan, negotiate a lease agreement for use of the land, and settle several other significant details before the project is ready to move forward. All three groups have expressed interest in exploring the possibility of the project and the City Council and staff also appear willing to try to work together to make the project a reality. There may also be room on the site for at least one additional structure.
At the workshop Council heard from Jim Tierney of Community Action Team (CAT). CAT has been hired by the Senior Center and Vernonia Cares as their project manager. CAT had been working with both groups in 2007 before the flood to build a new facility. Council also heard from City Administrator Bill Haack who gave an update on the project and the needs of the City in the process.
The Vernonia Health Board is moving forward quickly with their plans to construct a new Health Center building and have hired Scott Edwards Architecture to create predesign drawings and to act as their project manager. The Health Board has been informed that they will be the final project to receive FEMA funds as part of the December 2007 Vernonia disaster event. The Health Board is expected to receive a buyout for their old building, which will then be required to be demolished, similar to the old school campus. The Health Board also has funds being held for them by Providence Health which were donated following the flood. The Health Board announced to the City Council that they would be starting a Capital Campaign in early February to raise the additional funds they would need to construct a new facility slightly larger than their current clinic, with the hope of beginning construction in May of 2013. Total cost for the project is estimated to be around $600,000 or $700,000 with $420,000 already in hand. The Health Board says they will approach private foundations for the balance of the money.
The Council also heard from Sandy Welch, Director of Vernonia Cares and Sykes Mitchell representing the Senior Center. Both groups updated the Council on their current expectations for the size and design of their facilities. The possibility exists that the two groups could construct a building together to house both their facilities.
One of the issues that has slowed down the development of the Rose Avenue Project is the availability of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. Both the Senior Center and Food Bank will need to apply for and receive these funds in order to construct their project. CDBG rules limit the number of open grants any community can have at any one time. Vernonia is already at their limit but expect to close one in the near future, opening the way for the City to apply on behalf of the Senior Center and Vernonia Cares. If CDBG funds were used the City would own the building for the first five years.
Still to be determined is the role the City will play in fiscally managing any block grant funds, and how the transfer of ownership would occur between the City and the stakeholders following the five year period.
At the conclusion of the workshop Council determined by consensus that they would like the Health Center and CAT to work together to create a joint site plan and return to Council before moving forward.
Although there are still many details to be worked out and roles to be determined and defined, there seems to be momentum growing for the development of this project on both the part of the City and the three partners.