By Audrey Henvey
When teachers filed in to Celina ISD’s convocation this year, the tables featured small orange traffic cones and jars of wildflowers as centerpieces.
A construction sign like the one drivers encounter on the road read H.E.A.R.T. Small photos presented the district’s earliest school buildings.
The decor centered around the convocation’s theme, meant to inspire teachers throughout the school year: “The path to success is always under construction.”
“It’s because we will be in construction for the next 10 years,” says Communications Director Jill Roza.
When she moved to Celina 20 years ago, Roza had a front-row seat to Frisco’s population boom. Now, she says her city could eventually be one of the largest in Collin County.
The district has seen the stirrings of growth with plans to complete a $24.5 million athletic complex in the fall, a $600 million bond passed for further development and the building of four elementary and two middle schools. Roza says the district is expected to double in size every five years.
Celina joins other cities in the northern part of the county that are laying the foundation for what numbers indicate will be a ripple of population growth. With cities like Plano, Frisco and Allen approaching build-out, future residents are looking north for newer living possibilities.
David Alan Cox, Collin County Realtors Association president, says the most popular cities are what he calls “turnkey” cities that feature both commercial and residential locations.
“The schools are there, the restaurants are there, the shopping, everything you need in one-stop shop neighborhoods,” he says. “And that’s kind of what they’re building up north.”
Those areas have more contemporary housing styles featuring smaller homes with bigger kitchens and more outdoor patio areas. Cox attributes this to residents’ desires to see the latest and greatest models that they might see on TV.
“Everybody wants the new iPhones when they come out, so they’re seeing these new contemporary styles, and I think that people are starting to need less stuff,” he says. “I think they’re starting to shed some of their stuff and go for an easier type of living.”
The allure of the newly developed city has affected other towns like Prosper, which is seeing a steady increase in residents. With a population of 9,423 in 2010, numbers rose to a projected 25,630 in 2019, according to data from the North Central Texas Council of Governments Regional Data Center.
It has also seen an influx of businesses. One of Prosper’s biggest retail developments is at U.S. Route 380 and Preston Road, where Blue Star Land LP and Dallas-based Lincoln Property Co. have developed an $1 billion-plus retail development featuring about 800 acres of retail and office space. The development, named The Gates of Prosper, includes a Walmart, AT&T store and Verizon store.
Blue Star Land LP, owned by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and family, also developed Star Trail, a 900-acre residential project in Prosper. The company has previously put up residential developments in Allen and Frisco.
John Webb, Prosper’s director of Development Services, says the town is committed to building a community residents will stay in beyond the growth boom.
“We understand at some point we will mature, but we feel very strongly that it’s going to be a community that’s going to age very well by our design standards,” Webb says. “And I think that’s what retail and the service market has picked up on. Because we have a fairly high per household income buying power.”
The people moving to this area comprise many professionals and executives, Cox says, who come for the school districts. In May, Prosper ISD passed a $1.3 billion bond with 85 % voter approval.
Prosper Mayor Ray Smith says the town carries an “open field” feel where communities aren’t walled in.
“We want to have a unique Prosper look,” he says.
Part of that distinctive feel will come from the town’s size and land use. Compared to surrounding cities that reach 75-100 square miles, Prosper makes up about 27 square miles. That’s why the town wants to maximize its land use to sustain its success. Webb says a “low-density feel” and an attention to detail characterize this vision. Prosper has designated specific areas to be used for multi-family housing and challenge developers to ensure neighborhoods like what they propose to bring to the area.
“There are a lot of people that moved into Prosper because they don’t want to be in a high-density area,” Webb says.
Webb says he depends on the town’s Economic Development Corp., for statistics on what residents may need, such as plans for a senior living center that the council will consider approving at its next meeting.
Celina ISD has also given a lot of care to the data collection. While other districts did their own demographic studies, Roza said Celina ISD hired Templeton Demographics to get the numbers on the city’s student population distribution.
“Some school districts did their own demographic studies,” she said. “They’ve had to go back to ask for more money when it comes to a bond situation. We didn’t want to do that.”
Getting the right numbers helps districts avoid overcrowding in schools, which will be essential as Celina continues to develop its school system. The superintendent has visited other districts to see how they grew and is adapting that knowledge into Celina’s plan, Roza said.
The district still has only one high school. Roza says committee members, parents and students all reflected a desire to remain solely “Celina Bobcats” rather than introducing new schools. The district will eventually have additional high schools, but not for another 10 years, Roza says. For now, the district is looking to develop a feeder system similar to McKinney’s, which uses three high schools.
Cox says he expects a continued growth in the area and in Collin County.
“All the forecasters are saying we might see a little bit of slowdown in the next year or two, but interest rates are still good. People are still booming,” he says.
With an attractive location for businesses and the allure of new homes and thriving school districts, Cox doesn’t see the area’s growth slowing.
“I think that we set a lot of the pace for the rest of the country and for the rest of the state. I think that even when you look at Texas Realtors, sometimes they use our data to make their data even better. So what we’re doing in Collin County, I think we definitely are trendsetters.”
Donna Coggeshall, research manager for the Research and Information Services Team at NCTCOG, says there is no easy answer to making the right recipe for growth. But local governments have not given the signal to call off expansion projects for the increase in population.
“For our modeling purposes only, we are looking at the local government’s plans and what they’ll permit. And as long as they’ll permit development, our models will allow it to go there,” she says.
When it comes to defining what the boundaries of growth could be as the ripple continues, the adaption of new work commute styles, such as remote commutes or flexible hours, or even a person’ s willingness to travel long distances for work could help break the bonds of where growth could stop.
“If people are willing to drive an hour and a half, then there’s no reason why there would be a limit to how far out the growth will continue,” Coggeshall says.