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Vision: Major improvements in the works for Chemainus

The original downtown Chemainus revitalization was in obvious need of being revitalized after more than 30 years.

The Municipality of North Cowichan has long recognized that and council unanimously adopted The Chemainus Town Centre Revitalization Plan in November of 2011.

It’s an extensive plan that goes far beyond the downtown and murals. Instead, it spreads around the community to every nook and cranny, including side streets, roads leading in and out of Chemainus, the waterfront and much more.

Visible signs of the vast improvement project are going to start becoming apparent, with the Chemainus Waterwheel Square currently at the forefront.

John MacKay, director of engineering and operations for North Cowichan, is managing the project.

“It’s the main parking lot in Chemainus which is being completely redeveloped,’’ he explained. “We’re pretty well revamping the whole square. We’re putting in new pavers and landscaping. It’s going to be completely different.’’

An addition to the Chemainus Valley Museum is underway now.

“The museum is expanding and the Info Centre is moving into the building as well,’’ said MacKay. “It’s expanding but it’s going to have room for the Tourist Information Centre. Right now, it’s in the old firehall.’’

The old firehall will be demolished and replaced on the site by the new library. The Neighbourhood House Association will vacate the firehall and essentially move up the street almost next door, according to MacKay.

This is just the beginning of a major revamp for all of Chemainus.

“It’s everything people in Chemainus have wanted,’’ said MacKay. “It’s all in the plans.’’

That includes the long-debated skateboard park which will find a home on the old Chemainus Elementary School site.

The prime paving and curb work around the waterwheel is just underway and should be finished by the end of 2014.

“We wanted to stay out of the way in the prime tourist time,’’ said MacKay.

It would take a book to outline everything in the plans for Chemainus and, in fact, there is a huge 66-page document that summarizes the size of the project, which will be spread out over a several years.

“It lists a whole bunch of projects for the downtown,’’ said MacKay. “There was a fair amount of public consultation.’’

The municipality engaged HB Lanarc Consultants Ltd. to work with staff, the Chemainus Advisory Committee and the public to develop the series of projects and policies to guide the success of Chemainus’ future.

The CAC, made up of Chemainus business owners, members of the Downtown Business Association, municipal councillors, non-profit organizations, and members of the community, has provided valuable input and expertise from day one.

“Part of the plan involves redeveloping Chemainus Road from the theatre to Henry Road,’’ added MacKay.

That includes the planned roundabout at Chemainus Road and River Road. MacKay said it’s budgeted to be done this year but depends on a right-of-way for the project being given to the municipality.

Besides that, the plan incorporates a wide variety of improvements such as making a better connection between Chemainus’ industrial heritage and the community.

Development of a waterfront walkway looking down toward the Western Forest Products mill is seen as a way to bridge the gap, with interpretive signing to provide insight into the forest industry and its marketplace.

A pedestrian waterfront boardwalk is also in the works, linking Kin Park with the industrial area by the government wharf and providing a stepping stone to “Old Town.’’

Streets and lanes are a significant part of the plan for Chemainus Road, Willow Street, Maple Street and Oak Street that better incorporates business and residential properties, with major visual improvements.

Chemainus will no longer be painted with the broad brush of being just a “Mural Town’’ after all is said and done, with the hope of bringing more tourists and a better business base into the mix.
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