Plans Move Forward for New Health Center and Rose Avenue Project

The Vernonia Health Board (VHB) is moving forward quickly with plans to construct a new Health Center facility as part of the Rose Avenue Project in Vernonia.

Current plans call for the Rose Avenue Project to include the Vernonia Health Center, the Vernonia Senior Center, and the Vernonia Cares Food Bank.  The project would move all three facilities to a large area owned by the City of Vernonia between Rose and Weed Avenues at the south end of Vernonia.  The project also has space for some other commercial development.

The Vernonia Health Board is hoping to complete their project within the next year in order to utilize the federal funding that is available through FEMA for properties that were damaged in the Vernonia Flood of December 2007.

“Most of the mitigation we’ve been doing [in Vernonia] has been under federal disaster declaration DR-1733,” explains Dan Brown, who has been coordinating the Columbia County Flood Recovery program.  Brown says that federal mitigation funds were made available to the State of Oregon following that federally declared disaster, but those funds are now just about exhausted.

FEMA, and the Oregon Emergency Management (OEM) office, which is actually responsible for approving mitigation projects and distributing the federal funds, is looking to close out the projects under DR-1733.  Disaster projects usually have a deadline of three or four years; DR-1733 has already received several extensions.

The Vernonia Health Board is budgeted to receive $290,000 from FEMA/OEM for the mitigation buyout of their current facility.

According to Brown, the Vernonia Health Center is probably the last project that will be submitted from Vernonia under DR-1733. “What’s happened is that the approved budgets for some of the projects elsewhere in Oregon have gone up,” says Brown.  “And a few more projects came in.  Consequently it was sort of a ‘race for the money’ at the end.”

But Brown was clear that this doesn’t mean there won’t be any more projects from the 2007 flood that can receive funding.

Brown went on to explain the Vernonia Senior Center is another project currently pending approval by FEMA.  According to Brown, these projects that are still looking for funding can be rolled into the more recent federally declared disaster for which Oregon received mitigation funds.  That is federally declared disaster DR-4055 which was declared in 2012.  Federal rules allow for ready projects to request funding from any declared disaster in their state. “When a new disaster is declared and money comes into the state for mitigation, then eligible entities in the state can apply for it,” says Brown.

The VHB,  which already has approval from FEMA for their project, is currently working with  Scott/Edwards Architecture to develop their plans for the new health center building.  The Senior Center and Food Bank have hired Community Action Team as their project manager.  Both teams are working together to create a site plan for the Rose Avenue Project.  Preliminary plans have been agreed upon, making way for the Vernonia Health Board to move forward.

Sid Scott is a senior partner with Scott/Edwards and is the project manager for the Vernonia Health Center.  According to VHB President Marie Krahn, the project initially applied for and was approved to receive assistance through Architects Without Boarders, but the scope and timeline of the project called for a higher level of need.  The VHB was then referred to an organization called “The 1%”  which connects nonprofits in need with architecture and design firms who donate a portion of their work.  Scott/Edwards, through “The 1%,”  are providing their work to the VHB at a greatly reduced rate.

Krahn says Scott/Edwards brings a level of expertise that the VHB needed with such a short timeline and budgetary constraints  and provides an understanding of what the project entails.  They do a large amount of work with nonprofits and have done numerous projects that involve  health care organizations and facilities.  Scott/Edwards Architecture recently finished the Virginia Garcia Wellness Center in Cornelius, OR and is currently working on a partnership between Virginia Garcia and Pacific University and an assisted living facility to be built in Beaverton.  They also recently completed medical centers in Eugene and in Pendleton and are starting on a project in Cornelius to build a combination library and assisted living facility.  “We really needed someone with their expertise working with nonprofits and medical groups,” says Krahn.  “We really needed someone with that history and those strengths behind them for our project.”

The VHB has created a five year business plan in conjunction with the Public Health Foundation of Columbia County, which is providing day-to-day operations for the Health Center.   In creating that business plan, the VHB reviewed how medical services are provided to the community,  access to medical services, and how to be more efficient at providing those services. The VHB is currently looking at how to work more collaboratively with organizations like Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU), Pacific University, The Public Health Foundation and a new organization called North Columbia Access which is looking at how small cities in Columbia County can work together to share costs for providing health care.

Current plans call for a 5400 square foot building which will provide space for primary care services, but also behavioral health, mental health, prevention services and other services that are provided in the county like WIC and mother/baby programs.  “In looking to the future, the design of our new building will house all these services that promote a healthy community as a whole,” says Krahn.  The new building could also provide space for a pharmacy as well as teaching and learning spaces for university medical students from Pacific University and OHSU.

The timeline for construction of the new Health Center is extremely short.  The VHB is facing a March 2014 deadline for demolition of their current building which sits in the floodway.  The problem is that demolition projects in the floodway can be restricted during flood season, which means the demolition, at best, should be completed by late fall 2013.  Consequently, construction of the new facility needs to be completed prior to that.

Krahn says the VHB with the help of Scott/Edwards is currently working through the planning process and creating needed design and construction plans and documents.  They have also developed a capital campaign and are  preparing for  discussions with private funders. The  hope is to  secure the funding they need, in addition to the buyout they will receive from FEMA through DR-1733,  to allow project construction to begin this summer.