SACRAMENTO — The total transformation of Woodlake’s downtown was recently recognized by engineers as one of California’s most innovative projects.
On Jan. 16 the American Council of Engineering Companies of California (ACEC California) announced 2018 recipients of its prestigious Engineering Excellence Awards. In all, 39 California firms representing 55 projects were recognized, including 19 Honor Awards granted to 18 firms, 26 Merit Awards granted to 20 firms, and 10 Commendation Awards granted to 9 firms. Included in the last group was QK, formerly Quad Knopf of Visalia, for its design/engineering work on Woodlake’s Multi-Phase Downtown Enhancement Project.
The project is actually a combination of five, interconnected public projects including the Woodlake Plaza, Paseo, roundabout, downtown street improvements and Whitney Transit Center.
In 2013, the Whitney Transit Center installed curbs, gutters and storm drains at the busy intersection of Magnolia and Lakeview where water once pooled into the street at the undeveloped dirt lot. The well lit, covered transit center offers residents a safe place for to wait for either the Dial-A-Ride bus or the Tulare County Area Transit, which connects to the Visalia Transit lines that take residents to College of the Sequoias and shopping centers there.
In 2016, the large metal “Woodlake” sign put the finishing touches on the round-a-bout creating a grand entrance into town for visitors entering from either Highway 216 (Naranjo Boulevard) or Highway 245 (Valencia Boulevard). The roundabout project added new curbs, gutters and sidewalks at the intersection of Naranjo and Valencia boulevards for a half block in every direction. This tied into the Downtown Improvement Project which added new gutters and storm drains in addition to new sidewalks (stamped concrete, colored, stone or brick), decorative benches and street lighting, bulb outs each intersection and planted new trees along Valencia Boulevard from Naranjo to Lakeview and on Lakeview from Valencia to Magnolia.
Also in 2016, the City completed its Woodlake Plaza project. The project redeveloped a blighted block of Magnolia Avenue between Antelope Street and Naranjo into a slightly above ground amphitheater with seating area as a venue for small concerts and community events.
Last year, the city dedicated its paseo project which redeveloped a run-down vacant lot into a park-like picnic area connecting the museum, plaza, city park, main street, and community center. Woodlake paseo replaced the old iron “Woodlake” sign above a downtown parking lot with a new sign framing the entrance to a picturesque walkway with the back drop of the Woodlake Rodeo mural to the north and the ballet folklorico and mariachi mural to the south.
The projects totaled $16 million with 90% of the funding coming from state and federal transportation grants, Measure R (Tulare County’s half cent sales tax measure for transportation), and state and federal community development funds.
While not included in the engineering award, the final piece of Woodlake’s five-year plan to transform its downtown will be the construction of the new community center, schedule for completion later this year.
City Administrator Ramon Lara said all of projects played a key role in revitalizing downtown, not just for community pride and visitor presentation, but also economically. Lara said the bristling new downtown has attracted major retailers to bring services and jobs to residents while also bolstering the city’s sales tax revenue for future improvements.
“We don’t have many vacant buildings and the businesses that are there seem to be doing okay,” Lara said. “That’s not something we could have said five years ago.”
Since beginning its five-year plan, Woodlake has attracted a Subway, Rite Aid, Family Dollar, and Dollar General. Lara said an Auto Zone will be opening on Naranjo Boulevard in late spring and, like the other chains listed above, are continuing with sidewalk and landscaping designs consistent with those used in the city’s own projects.
“These projects are an extension of our downtown projects,” Lara said. “We now have a downtown design standard and we work these business partners to maintain that standard.”
Provost & Pritchard Consulting Group in Fresno, Calif. also received a Commendation Award from ACEC for its work on the Pervious Pavement Project for parking in Visalia’s downtown.
“The heart of civil engineering is to solve complex challenges to help make people’s lives better,” said Brad Diede, Executive Director of ACEC California. “This year, we are recognizing a wide range of innovative projects that include improving transportation and roadways, giving students a high-quality school campus, and providing better access to clean water. I’m very proud of our engineering and land surveying firms and both their local agency and private sector partners, who keep pushing the envelope to find smarter, more advanced ways to serve the people of California.”