Flood Damaged Vernonia
Infrastructure investment important to accessibility to new schools and community center

(Salem) – On the eve of the third anniversary of the historic flood, Governor Ted Kulongoski today joined community leaders and citizens for the groundbreaking of a new K-12 school and community center. The Governor also made a surprise announcement that the state is making an investment of $3.8 million dollars for improvements to the state highway and two adjoining streets around the new school and community center to accommodate traffic.

The Vernonia area was devastated by two 500-year floods in an 11-year time span. The last flood was on December 3, 2007, which literally cut-off the community from the rest of Oregon when all roads were blocked by debris or damage. In addition, all three schools – elementary, middle school and high school – were damaged when sewage-tainted water filled the hallways and classrooms.

“The citizens of Oregon have never left the residents of Vernonia behind. We quickly cleared the roads, brought in our federal partners and helped families put their lives together after the flood and we have not left their side since,” said the Governor. “Today’s investment is the next step in helping rebuild this community. It will assure the students are safe as they travel to and from their new school and keeps the state at the side of Vernonia as it continues to raise funds needed to put these schools on the ground.”

After the flood, the Governor appointed an Oregon Solutions team to conduct a thorough site selection process and develop a master plan for a new campus to replace the schools, which make up Vernonia’s entire school district. Governor Kulongoski also issued Executive Order 10-07, which directed state agencies to offer aid, help and assistance and to work collaboratively and assist Vernonia and its surrounding community to rebuild its schools and public infrastructure.

As a result of this executive order, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Oregon Business Development Department (OBDD) worked together to identify $3.8 million to help make the necessary improvements to the state highway and local streets leading to the school.

The improvements consist of widening Oregon 47 to install an eastbound left turn lane, sidewalks, bicycle lanes, a multi-use pedestrian path and associated safety improvements for the school zone. The one-time funds will come from Business Development's Special Public Works fund and are restricted to uses allowed under the constitutional dedication of state highway funds.

The Oregon Transportation Commission will add the project to the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) at it's meeting in December. The project design work will be completed by the end of 2011. Construction of the highway improvements will begin by early 2012. The road improvements will be in place for the opening of the school in Fall, 2012.

“I am proud that the state remains a strong partner with this community, working together across state agencies and in state-local partnerships to rebuild this important and iconic Oregon community,” the Governor said. “But we have so much more to do – and just as it did three years ago when responding to the immediate damage – it is going to take a commitment from all of us as Oregonians to help see Vernonia, its schools and its citizens get the schools, roads and economic activity and opportunity they need to succeed.”

Since the floods the students of Vernonia have been displaced into minimally-repaired buildings and old modular classrooms still vulnerable to another winter flood. The community rallied and in November, 2009 the community overwhelmingly approved a $13 million bond to make the down payment necessary to replace the three schools – the additional funds to rebuild the schools will come from private fundraising. The total cost, however, to rebuild these schools is approximately three times the amount approved by the bond measure.

“Today is a great day. It’s a new beginning with many chapters still to write,” the Governor said. “I hope that Oregonians across the state will join me and the state and find a way to contribute to the rebuilding of Vernonia so that our next celebration isn’t just a ground breaking but a ribbon cutting, opening the doors to new schools and new opportunities for the children and citizens of this great community.”

The Governor also participated in a school assembly with all 700 students of the district. He presented an Oregon flag to be flown over their new building when completed.

Source: News Press Release

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