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Planning Pays Off

Thursday, January 18 2007 12:00 AM
By Bill Wilson
The Wichita Eagle

The recent rapid growth of Maize is rooted in a decision three decades ago to build the best school possible.

"Folks got together in the mid-1970s and decided if they built a great school, a great community would follow," said Bob Scott, owner of Prairie Pines Christmas Tree Farm.

"Now look at us. It has, hasn't it?"

The 6,300-student Maize district is still committed to the best teachers it can find, superintendent Craig Elliott said.

It's also remodeling a middle school at 45th and Maize Road and planning for a bond election to build the second high school for a city of only 3,000 people.

That school district is the foundation for a remarkable seven years of residential and commercial growth in Maize, where property valuation has doubled in a community that swells to 8,000 when school is in session.

And there's more growth coming. Maize City Manager Richard LaMunyon thinks his community will be unrecognizable in 10 years as the "Andover of the west."

And everyone from a statewide utility to developers agree.

Westar Energy officials are working on a major expansion of the city's electricity grid to accommodate an influx of residents -- up to 7,000 more by 2017 -- and the retail destined to follow.

Coming attractions

There are major housing projects -- Hampton Lakes, WynWood, Watercress, a Mennonite Housing project along K-96, Scott's Fiddler's Cove at Prairie Pines.

There are apartment complexes: Fieldstone, which wants to almost double the 48 units it recently completed, and the Villas.

There are three new restaurants with at least one more on the drawing board, the new headquarters for SecureNet Corp., a new Goodwill retail store and training center, the Northwest Dialysis Center.

There's a new strip mall, Eagle Point, at 45th and Maize, and the planned expansion of Maize Center at 53rd and Maize.

Driving the growth

Why all that growth? The Maize school district and location, location, location, said two developers who have bought into the city's future.

"The driving force up there is clearly the school district," said Brad Saville, president of Landmark Commercial Real Estate. Saville is developing 40 acres on the southeast corner of 37th and Maize into a retail and office development.

"That's a great, great school district, second to none," said Marv Schellenberg, who is developing Hampton Lakes and the Villas. "Great schools draw people.

"Secondly, it's just a great location, minutes from all the needs people have in the midst of a small-town atmosphere. The access to K-96 is a great plus, too."

Electrifying Maize

The city's rapid growth has the attention of Westar officials, who are accelerating the timeline for a new multimillion-dollar substation and transmission lines at 49th and Tyler.

"We were looking down the road outside two years," said Greg Roy, Westar's project manager.

"But with the latest developments, we're looking at inside those two years now."

Currently, about 78 megawatts of electricity serve the northwest Wichita area. By 2015, as Maize approaches 10,000 residents, the minimum demand is expected to be 100 megawatts, or about 28 percent higher.

It's unique growth for such a small Kansas town, Roy said. LaMunyon thinks it's the tip of the iceberg.

"The estimate is we'll double our population to 6,000 in 10 years, and I think that's conservative," he said.

"I don't think 10,000 people is a stretch at all. If the construction and the growth patterns continue as they are, it's not unrealistic at all."

The reason for that optimism, LaMunyon said, goes beyond the current projects list -- to inquiries for industrial development around the Coleman Co. plant and Cranmer Grass Farm near 119th and K-96.

And to office and residential possibilities near and west of 53rd and Tyler.

It's heady stuff for Scott, with 33 years at his tree farm.

"You know, when we moved out here in 1973 from Wichita, Maize was so small and this was all open farmland," he said.

"I remember a guy came out here once from the state and said this would be some land for the new K-96 highway. I said, 'You gotta be kidding me.'

"Who would have thought in 1973 that this would be a hot spot for growth?"

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