The City of Castle Rock has been awarded a $70,000 grant from Cowlitz County's Rural Development Fund to install free wi-fi access for visitors throughout the downtown and uptown areas.
Announced during the May 11 Castle Rock City Council meeting, Public Works Director Dave Vorse said the grant was part of a package of funding Castle Rock had requested for city improvement projects, which also included installation of a sound system throughout downtown and lighting upgrades. Though only the wi-fi project has been approved so far, Vorse said the city is still satisfied a major portion of their request went through.
"The wi-fi was the biggest piece, so we're pleased that they granted us," said Vorse, stating free wireless internet is "intended to be a feature that would encourage people to stay longer in town."
Of the project itself, Vorse said the plan is to install 18 wi-fi access points on top of streetlights throughout the city center, and areas along Mt. St. Helens Way toward the city limits. Vorse added the project may not see completion until the end of the year, as the city still needs to engineer the specifics of the project and select a contractor, stating they would likely end up hiring a communications company such as Comcast, Century Link or Cascade Networks, among others.
Vorse also pointed out the purpose of the wi-fi installation is not to replace the existing internet subscriptions of local residents and businesses, but instead to allow access for travelers and guests. To this end, he said, the system would be designed to begin slowing down access to a user after two hours, and would eventually kick the user off the network if they remained longer.
"It will have limitations," he said of the system, stating the free wi-fi would not be a "permanent fix" for those seeking long-term internet access.
The installation of wi-fi would be one of many projects, including roads improvements, floral displays, park improvements and water features, undertaken recently to draw residents, businesses and tourists into Castle Rock. Vorse said the results of these improvements have led to, among other effects, a drop in the ratio of vacant storefronts downtown from 35 percent to nine percent in recent years.
Vorse said the overall goal of these projects has been to improve Castle Rock's "Quality of Place," and credited the pro-activity of local officials and volunteers in seeking "every opportunity" toward this goal.