Latino community in Cornelius on board with bond, says city manager

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Forest Grove High School senior Noah Wilson-Fey canvases houses Saturday, Oct. 5, on South Alpine street in Cornelius for the November bond measure to support a new library. That same day, 12 Spanish-speaking volunteers were knocking on Latino voters doors, explaining the importance of the measure.Cornelius voters will soon have a chance to continue the downtown transformation that started a year ago with the new, two-story Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center.

This time, they could decide to add Cornelius Place, a three-story building that would include two floors of affordable senior housing, a new library, a community room and an outdoor plaza for programs.

A $2.4 million bond measure on the Nov. 5 ballot would provide critical funding to start the project, which would span the north side of Adair Street between 13th and 14th avenues, just west of Cornelius Elementary School.

Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake said polls show public support for the measure, which would leverage an additional $10.4 million of outside investment.

“Don’t we wish we could do that with our bank accounts?” Drake joked recently.

Favorable poll numbers on a 2004 community center bond proposal proved flawed when only 29 percent voted yes. But Drake said Cornelius has changed dramatically since then.

For one thing, library supporters are much more active. In 2004, the Friends of the Library group was only 15 members strong. Now it’s more than 100.

For another thing, the Latino community is on board and involved in supporting the project.

Leaders from the community's two biggest social institutions — Centro Cultural and St. Alexander’s Catholic Church — have endorsed it.

The library’s two Latino outreach coordinators have drawn in families through local Head Start and Adelante Mujeres programs and helped get 34 percent of the city’s school-age children involved in summer reading at the library this year.

“Fourteen percent of everything we check out is in Spanish,” said Library Director Karen Hill. That’s the highest rate in the county for Spanish-language circulation, just ahead of Forest Grove, she COURTESY PHOTOS: SCOTT EDWARDS ARCHITECTURE - The four-story entryway to the new Cornelius Public Library, as shown in this draft rendering, would be the tallest structure in Cornelius, towering above the rest of the three-story building.

And Bienestar, the nonprofit that will provide $8 million to build the project’s 41 units of affordable senior housing, is deeply involved in the local Latino community, which “woke up” electorally two years ago during a recall of the mayor and two city councilors, Drake said.

In addition, Luis Nava, a volunteer community activist, has been registering Latino voters in Cornelius (and elsewhere in Washington County) since the 2008 presidential election. With the bond measure coming up, he and other volunteers are going door-to-door explaining the measure in Spanish.

"I'm telling the community this is going to cost money to their pockets," Nava said. "But if we want something better, we need to invest. They say that amount of money per month is nothing compared with what they're going to get."

The amount is 29 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, translating to about $5 a month for a home assessed at $180,000.

"They use, a lot, the library," Nava said. "That's the main resource they have in the area."

When the ballots come out, Nava said, he and his crew will have lawn signs ready to go up and are planning a community potluck before election day to get people together.

With the Latino community paying attention, and with strong support from other residents, Drake and Hill believe the measure has a good chance. This past Saturday, National Honor Society students from both Forest Grove and Glencoe high schools canvassed Cornelius neighborhoods to help drum up support for the project.

If it passes, the design and fundraising phases of the project would run from 2013 to 2016. The construction phase would run two years beyond that, finishing in 2018 if all goes as planned.

Once open, the building would more than quadruple the library’s current 3,025 square feet to 16,000 square feet--and not a moment too soon.

In the last 10 years, the Cornelius library’s annual circulation has almost tripled — from 40,545 to 118,072.

"Since 2000, every library in Washington County has remodeled, expanded, or built a new building or added a branch, except for the Cornelius Library," according to a pro-bond flier.

The current library is so small that patrons who hope to read or study must sometimes contend with alphabet songs and laughing children during storytime, Hill said.

The new library would provide a safe space for students to meet tutors or other students or to just hang out.

It could also provide afterschool programs now unavailable, possibly through the YMCA, which is working on an arrangement with the library for use of the building's community room.

With all it has to offer, Nava said, "This new development idea is not only going to be a library — it's going to be something that will change the view of Cornelius."

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