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Hundreds gather to kick off Cornelius project with new library, senior housing, more than a decade in the making

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Cornelius community leaders and representatives from other partnering groups scooped some dirt during a ceremonial groundbreaking. About 150 people showed up to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Cornelius Place development Saturday morning, Sept. 23, including Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, state Rep. Susan McLain, state Sen. Chuck Riley, Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, Bienestar Executive Director Nathan Teske, BRIDGE Housing Senior Vice President Alison Lorig, and many other key project players, as well as a good chunk of local residents.

Community members headed to the center of town for a celebration with snacks (donated by Cornelius Fred Meyer), a balloon artist, an Aztec dancing group, and community information booths for organizations such as the YMCA, Centro Cultural, the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center (VGMHC) and more. Volunteers were also collecting donations, as they're still trying to raise about $600,000 for the project.

Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin opened the event by announcing the Ford Family Foundation awarded the project $250,000 earlier in the week. Dalin said he envisions the new complex as "a place for everyone."

When completed in about 13 months, Cornelius Place will include a new library area triple the size of the current one, 45 units of affordable senior housing, a YMCA center and a community meeting space.

The new library will feature two additional librarians, four private study rooms, a children's area with STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) and early literacy programming, an expanded Spanish-language collection, increased technology, a teen center, and a café. NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici addressed the crowd Saturday morning, applauding city and library leaders' efforts to make the long-held dream of Cornelius Place a reality.

The complex is located on the Trimet bus 57 route, close to Virginia Garcia and Centro Cultural, and just west of Cornelius Elementary School.

"There have been many years of effort by many people, which has made this happen," said Washington County Cooperative Library Services Director Eva Calcagno. "I hope the event reinvigorates community support for its library and fosters community."

Cornelius Public Library Director Karen Hill is one of those people who has been putting in the effort since she came to the Cornelius library 11 years ago. Hill was greeted with claps and cheers as she took the podium Saturday.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Plans for the new library enticed attendees.

"The reason I came here and have stayed here is because I'm making a difference — and everyone has that ability," said Hill, also stressing the team effort it took to get the project off the ground. "The residents here are wonderful and deserve this library."

Persistence toward the project — even after a bond measure to support the library failed a few years ago, for example — was a prominent theme during the morning.

Hill's mother, Shirley Sleep, also attended the event after years of watching her daughter's successes and stresses centered on Cornelius Place. "I'm so proud of Karen," she said.

Thirteen-year-old Amalia Villafana, who attended Saturday's event with her family, is excited for the new library and teen area.

Cornelius Public Library Board Member Gregory Vandervelden attended with his wife, Alyssa, and their young daughter, who enjoys the current library's programming.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Dancers entertained the crowd after speeches Saturday.

"This is the library I went to as a kid and now I'm bringing my daughter, and hopefully soon our son," said Vandervelden, who's expecting a child with his wife.

He's also excited about the affordable housing element. "It provides an opportunity for seniors to stay involved in their community," he said.

Many attendees were just as excited about the YMCA center and community space as the new library building.

"I'm excited for everything — the new building, the housing, more books," said Adan Merecias, a Cornelius resident who moved to the city when he was 10 and has been using the library ever since. He plans to start taking his 3-year-old daughter to the library to check out books and the children's programs.

Merecias also thinks the YMCA is a needed addition. "The Latino community has an issue with health in general and with diabetes," he said. "I think there's a need to focus on health."

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Luis, Sofia (center) and Graciela Hernandez attended the event Saturday to celebrate with their community. Cornelius Planning Commission member Luis Hernandez attended the event with his wife Graciela and daughter Sofia. He's looking forward to the community meeting space because in his experience working with groups in the city, it's been difficult to find a place to gather people together.

"Every kid should have an opportunity for quality after-school care and summer programs," said Katie Riley of Washington County Kids, which works with community organizations to secure steady funding for such programs. Riley is particularly excited about the new YMCA center.

Savanna Wilson moved to Cornelius three years ago and is happy to hear there will be a new space she can take her children. "It's nice to be here today and see people making a difference in their community."

By Stephanie Haugen
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times
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