By Emery Styron
Representatives of the Washington, Wellman, Kalona and Riverside communities and Mid-Prairie, Washington and Highland school districts jumped at the opportunity to tout their advantages and amenities at a March 1 luncheon celebrating the combination of the English Valley and Iowa City area Realtor associations.
The merger of two Corridor real estate multi-listing groups means prospective homebuyers will now see Washington County properties for sale alongside those in the Iowa City area. The tendency is to think of the Corridor as going from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids, said Shaner Malhaes, president of the Iowa City Area Association of Realtors. “We need to remember it goes south, too,” he told approximately 100 realty agents, lenders, title company representatives and others convened by the Washington Economic Development Group at the Riverside Casino Events Center.
Dr. Mike Jorgenson, superintendent of the Washington School District, said his district boasts the newest school building in the county, is breaking ground for a 700-seat auditorium and expects to build a daycare center with endowed funds. Washington High School students earn concurrent credits at Kirkwood College’s new center in Washington. The district is second in its Area Education Agency for the number of community college credits offered. Mr. Jorgenson touted the district’s 1-1 computer program covering grades six through 12.
Supt. Chris Arnold of the rural Highland district noted that 40 percent of his high school’s students participate in Kirkwood’s Career Academy. Highland’s elementary class size averages 17. That compares with a state average of 20.3 through 21.4 for grades K-3 in 2013, according to Iowa Department of Education figures.
“The caring learning environment” is why Mid-Prairie open-enrolled 319 incoming students this year, while losing just 36 enrollees to other districts, said Mark Schnieder, Mid-Prairie and Keota shared superintendent. Every M-P elementary student is taught both Chinese and Spanish, and all middle students are given a Chromebook computer to take home, he said.
“Choice” is a big word at M-P, Schneider said. There are no elementary school boundaries, students can opt for any of three sets of high school graduation requirements and Christian schools are seen as “collaborators rather than competitors.” Mr. Schneider showed a slide of an all-weather indoor athletic practice facility expected to be built with community-raised funds. M-P students have access to both the Oakdale and Washington Kirkwood centers for college credit classes.
A city-owned skating rink and sand greens golf course are two unique amenities in Wellman, which has an unusual amount to offer for a town of 1,408, said City Administrator Nick Pacha. Parkside Activities Center, a 38,900 square foot facility completed in 2010, houses a preschool, banquet hall, activities room, basketball and volleyball courts, fitness center and physical therapy clinic. He noted the city runs its own natural gas system and an updated reverse osmosis water treatment plant.
Riverside City Administrator drew smiles with his call for a moment of silence to commemorate the death of Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock on the Star Trek television series. It was Star Trek that famously made Riverside the future birthplace of Captain Kirk, spawning the annual Trekfest, sponsored by the Riverside Area Community Club.
“You can get to Coral Ridge Mall faster from the city of Riverside than you can from the east side of Iowa City,” Mr. Rogerson noted after talking up the city’s 19-lot subdivision under development and a planned $4 million community center to be operated jointly with the Washington YMCA.
Riverside Casino’s addition to the community in 2005 led to construction of a new water and sewer plant, which has “plenty of additional capacity,” Mr. Rogerson said. He said Riverside’s tax levy is the lowest in the county and it offers the cheapest water rates around. “That’s not a good financial plan, but that’s the way it is,” he added.
Mr. Rogerson also boasted of Riverside’s “Cadillac” fire department, which is slated to purchase an $800,000 ladder truck to allow it to reach the roof of the casino.
A $30 million, five-year capital improvements program, plentiful supply of developable land, successful downtown revitalization and a half-hour commute to Iowa City topped City Administrator Brent Hinson’s list of Washington’s advantages. Washington is experiencing a “heavy cycle of investment in community and schools,” he said and praised the cooperation among cities, schools and other entities within the county.
Downtown has seen $6 million in private investment and $8 million in public investment since 2008. “Washington is especially good at it,” he said of the city’s participation in Iowa’s Main Street program.
The city’s shopping offerings also include Walmart, Hy-Vee, Fareway, which people tend to ask for, he said. Residential building lots sell in the $30-35,000 range.
Mr. Hinson called on WEDG Director Ed Raber to explain Washington’s appeal to commuters. Mr. Raber said that when he and his wife lived in Coralville, it took her 35 minutes to drive to her job near the Pentacrest in Iowa City. “From Washington it’s still a 35-minute commute.”
Casey Peck, CFO of Kalona Cooperative Telephone Company, listed the “Top 5 of Want Makes Kalona Great,” including a thriving business community, tourism, schools, infrastructure including fiber to all homes and businesses and people. She also noted Kalona’s 20-minute commute to Iowa City and said the community is working to find a new tenant for the recently-shuttered cheese factory.
WEDG’s Raber, who put the meeting together, told CBJ he was pleased with all the networking between Washington and Johnson county Realtors and wished the event could have ran longer.
Tougher standards by national association prompted merger
What’s behind the merger of the Iowa City Area Association of Realtors and the English Valley Association of Realtors? New, tougher standards adopted last May by the National Association of Realtors are prompting combinations of Realtor groups across Iowa and the nation, according to Shaner Magalhaes ICAAR president.
The new standards include provisions on ethics, political advocacy, community outreach, strategic planning, legal counsel and technology that are difficult for smaller associations such as English Valley to meet, Mr. Magalhaes said. “It takes paid staff to hit the core standards.”
In some cases, several smaller associations are combining to form one large enough to assemble the resources to meet the requirements. In this case, it made sense for the English Valley Association to dissolve and its members join ICAAR if they choose.
Some real estate firms may choose not to join or to join other Realtor groups, Mr. Magalhaes said. Membership in ICAAR carries substantially higher fees per agent, but also brings access to a more sophisticated website and Multi-List service, educational opportunities and a paid staff. Even without the push from the NAR, “geographically, it makes sense” for Washington County to be included,” Mr. Magalhaes said.