As Cornelius council building torn down, public faces impacts
Big changes have arrived in the heart of Cornelius, as a major city project is creating temporary disruptions to traffic and parking.
Contractors began tearing down the old building where the Cornelius City Council used to meet Monday, Dec. 18. By Wednesday, Dec. 27, little remained of it but a wall facing North 13th Avenue.
The old Cornelius Town Center building is being demolished to make way for the construction of Cornelius Place, a building set to rise in 2018 as the new home of the Cornelius Public Library.
Work affects motorists, patrons, neighboring school
Construction work is causing an impact to the public, with changes and closures beginning Wednesday, according to Mark Crowell, Cornelius' public works director.
With construction fencing jutting out into the roadway, North 14th Avenue has temporarily become a one-way street between Adair and Barlow streets, with southbound traffic being detoured onto North 13th Avenue. The sidewalk on the west side of the street has also been closed.
The parking lot on Cornelius' main civic campus has also been reconfigured to make way for the construction project. Parking for Washington County Sheriff's Office vehicles has been moved from the south side of the Cornelius Public Safety Building to what is normally the main public parking lot to its east, restricting the number of public parking spaces at Cornelius City Hall.Because the parking spaces are angled facing east, vehicular traffic westbound on Barlow Street into the parking lot is being routed through a turnaround lane in front of the Public Safety Building.
"You still can pull into the City Hall area … and we've made it so most cars and medium-sized trucks can get in there and turn around without having to back up," Crowell said.
Unfortunately, public parking at City Hall is now limited to about five spaces, Crowell acknowledged. Street parking is also available on 14th Avenue north of Barlow Street, where permitted.
The changes on 14th Avenue affect school traffic at Cornelius Elementary School, just across 14th Avenue from City Hall.
Crowell said the one-way reconfiguration of 14th Avenue is "mainly to accommodate the bus traffic" in front of Cornelius Elementary. The placement of the fencing and the prohibition on southbound travel between Barlow and Adair streets should allow buses to keep pulling up in front of the school for loading and unloading without blocking traffic, he said.
"We've allowed about 22 or 24 feet of asphalt, and that's so they have ample room … to park next to the curb, and then there's still 10 or 12 feet travel lane so that cars can get by them going north," said Crowell, adding, "We've made a good attempt, and we'll see how it works."Cornelius Elementary is currently on winter break, with classes set to resume Tuesday, Jan. 2. Crowell said sheriff's deputies will be on the scene Tuesday to help direct traffic and remind people about the one-way closure on 14th Avenue.
Once the former site of the Cornelius Town Center building is cleared and construction of Cornelius Place begins, Crowell said the former police parking lot on the south side of the Public Safety Building will be used for construction access, and construction materials will be staged south of City Hall.
"Our plan is to have minimal trucks out in the street, whether it's 14th Avenue or Adair, unloading (materials)," Crowell said.
Work is expected to last about 13 months. Crowell said the target completion date for Cornelius Place is January 2019.
Project intended to be downtown 'sparkplug' for Cornelius
Ironically, the teardown of the Cornelius Town Center building is part of a concerted effort to give Cornelius a true center of town. The city has faced criticism over the years for lacking a discrete "downtown" core, and the commercial strip along North Adair Street and West Baseline Street bears signs of blight and neglect, with some of the most prominent businesses that once anchored the area — like Hank's Thriftway, and later Grande Foods — having succumbed to market pressures years ago.
The public can expect to see continued references to the Cornelius Town Center, even though the building labeled with that name is gone.
The city and the regional government Metro both use the "Town Center" term to refer to the downtown area, according to Ryan Wells, Cornelius' community development director, and in 2018, the city will begin developing a Town Center master plan. Wells said the geographic term "is going to become more prominent" as that project gets underway.City and library officials hope Cornelius Place, which will also host apartments for older adults and a YMCA center, will serve as a "sparkplug" for investment and redevelopment in downtown Cornelius.
"The community is anxiously awaiting this," said City Manager Rob Drake at the most recent Cornelius City Council meeting on Monday, Dec. 4.
The City Council is meeting at Centro Cultural de Washington County, 1110 N. Adair St. in Cornelius, for the time being. Once Cornelius Place is complete, council meetings are expected to move into the space at City Hall that now houses the Cornelius Public Library.
The new library space at Cornelius Place will be more than four times the size of the existing library, according to Karen Hill, the city's library director.Cornelius Place will be the latest change to the streetscape on Adair Street through the heart of Cornelius.
In 2012, the Cornelius Wellness Center — operated by the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center — opened at 1151 N. Adair St., a modern-looking addition to the burgeoning downtown area.
Metro provided grant funding for the installation of sidewalks and street trees along Adair and Baseline streets. A 2014 article on Metro's website displayed dramatic "before and after" pictures showing the changes at the intersection of Baseline Street and 14th Avenue, just two blocks south of City Hall.
Earlier in 2017, a new, larger sanctuary was dedicated at St. Alexander Catholic Church, 170 N. 10th Ave. in downtown Cornelius. The church is continuing to raise money for the construction of another building for office and classroom space.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with information on the Cornelius Town Center Master Plan and the City of Cornelius' use of the "Town Center" term.
By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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