The transformation of Waterwheel Square in Chemainus comes full circle this week as municipal workers put the final touches on the first of several revitalization projects planned for Mural Town.
According to John MacKay, director of engineering and operations for the Municipality of North Cowichan, workers are finishing up a little electrical and stone work and hope to have it complete in time for Little Town Christmas this Saturday (Dec. 20).
“The majority of it is done,” he said. “We’re just tying up loose ends.”
Construction on the Waterwheel parking lot began at the end of August so as to not disrupt summer traffic for businesses and tourism in the area.
The revamp has included a total redesign of the parking lot to include a dedicated parking area for tour buses in Waterwheel Lane, new trees, lighting, benches, picnic tables and power outlets for market vendors.
“The background of the trees and shrubs all makes it look very attractive, and yet we’ve managed to keep our most convenient parking spaces and also create a wonderful gathering area at the lookout, which we’ve never had before,” said North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure. “We’ve always used the parking lot as a town square, but it really didn’t look like a town square. Now it’s going to be a focal point for anybody coming into Chemainus.”
The new multi-use venue has kept well within its $900,000 budget, says MacKay. The budget had to be revised from preliminary projections of $802,000 when tenders came in higher than expected, and a charging station for electric cars was also added.
“When it first started, there was some negativity, but as the project’s proceeded and people can see what they’re getting, the feedback has been very positive,” he said.
Chemainus and District Chamber of Commerce co-ordinator Jeanne Ross says the project will have a big impact on Wednesday Markets when they start up again in May.
“Now there’s going to be more shelter and trees — it will be a much nicer place for the market to be because it will be in amongst flowers and trees instead of a big, boring parking lot that was kind of cracked and ugly looking,” she said.
It’s a view Ross says she looks forward to enjoying when the Chamber’s Visitor Centre moves into the expanding Chemainus Museum building next spring, if all goes well.
Chemainus Valley Museum secretary and archivist Norma Greer says the exterior of the building should be completed by the end of the year, with interior work getting started in 2015.
The Chemainus Valley Historical Society has raised approximately $400,000 to add roughly 4,500 square feet to the current museum building. They are looking to fundraise an additional $200,000 to complete the project and hold a grand opening in time for the museum’s 25th anniversary in 2016.
“It’s needed here because we’ve grown so much,” said Greer.
The expansion will double space for both displays and archives and improve the quality of the displays.
The final phase of the project will involve the joining of the old with the new museum, finishing and remodeling all areas and reorganizing all displays.
“We’re hoping to do all-new, better-appealing displays and have more technology in the displays,” said Greer.
The Chemainus Revitalization Plan was adopted by council in 2011 and calls for several more projects, including improvements to modernize Chemainus Road and Willow Street and the waterfront. In the new year, work will begin to remove the old fire hall in preparation for a new library.
“It’s quite a comprehensive plan and it’s over a number of years, but we’re picking away at it,” said MacKay.