Collin County

As Population Doubles, City of Celina Leaders Adjust to Growing Demand

City leaders expect Celina to grow to a city of 300,000 to 400,000 residents

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Many North Texas cities are seeing explosive growth, which can bring a new set of challenges to small communities.

Some areas are seeing a huge jump in demand for water and are being asked to conserve water much earlier than usual this summer. That's the case in Celina, where the population doubled in the past three years from roughly 18,000 to 36,000 people. City leaders are excited about the growth but said their biggest challenge is making sure city services can keep up with demand.

On a visit to the city's historic downtown square, Kate Tueller described why her family likes to spend time in Celina.

"Everything's really family-oriented, especially here in the small towns," said Tueller.

That small-town charm is a big draw attracting more families to the city.

Resident Jessica Edwards said she's noticed the growing diversity and surge of new businesses.

"More people for my kids to play with more businesses are open," Edwards said.

If you take the 50-minute drive up the tollway from Dallas, as you reach city limits, more and more signs of change appear. You can't miss the signs pointing to fields of farmland for sale, the widening sea of rooftops, or the constant hum of construction.

"You have to get used to the end of your street maybe being blocked off because they're still pouring slabs. You know, that's part of what you have to put up with here in this intense growth," explained Celina Fire Chief Mark Metdker.

"That will last for probably the next 15 to 20 years," Metdker said.

NBC 5 talked with the city's fire and police chiefs, mayor and city manager about their experience leading a small city through explosive growth.

"I think the biggest challenge is keeping up with services as you grow. You know, we're always a little bit behind," said Celina City Manager Jason Laumer.

For example, in April, newcomers learned the limits of Celina's tornado siren system. There are only two sirens currently. When storms hit on April 4, the sirens blared, but they didn't reach everyone.

Leaders responded to concerns on Facebook asking residents to sign up for Code Red emergency alerts for now. They also shared plans for future siren locations and explained that those plans will take time and money to execute.

"Just seems like to most folks they look at this and go, 'Well, y'all are behind' but that's normally why we are playing catch up. You build a home where it might be two years for we see any tax money on that house," said Metdker.

Right now, fire department response times are also longer than the fire chief would like to see. He said he's shooting for six to seven minutes maximum, but with only two fire stations for the entire city, it can take his crews more than 10 minutes to get to the other side of town. The chief said that will improve when Fire Station No. 3 is complete.

The groundbreaking is set for late summer/early fall 2022 and the city has acquired locations for 11 more fire stations. Metdker said he expects the city to have a least 15 fire stations in the future.

"One of the biggest complaints we get is traffic," said Celina Police Chief John Cullison.

The police chief said, along with the population, the volume and variety of 911 calls are increasing. Overall, he's excited about growing his department to meet the public safety needs of the growing city. Right now, Celina has 46 police officers.

"We will probably double in less than four years," said Cullison.

The city's top leaders said a lot can happen in four years in a place growing as fast as Celina.

"We have a beautiful rural atmosphere. And a lot of people move here for that. You know, five years later, it may be multifamily, it may be a shopping center. And I think a lot of the folks that are moving up here are under the impression that it's never going to change above what it is right now. But this is the early stages of a three to 400,000 population city," said Metdker.

To help residents, new and old, navigate the demand for services and the road ahead, town leaders are focusing on communicating the status of new business, infrastructure upgrades and more.

They are sharing plans on the Life in Celina Podcast and Mayor Sean Terry shares information and answers questions on Facebook Live videos on Fridays.

Terry shared what he feels is the biggest challenge the city faces amid rapid growth.

"It's making sure that you remember where you came from, keeping that heartbeat of Celina, of the long-timers that have been here, but also respecting the newcomers," said Terry.

They're doing a delicate balancing act, trying to build infrastructure and make room for amenities and expand services to meet the needs of incoming families without crowding out the people, scenery and small-town vibe that made them all want to live here.

"We're very rural heritage, you know, we try to honor that heritage. But I think you can only manage growth, you can't stop growth. I think we can make it work for us," said Laumer.

Families in Celina have also expressed the need for greater access to healthcare services closer to home. Methodist Health and Scottish Rite recently announced they've purchased land and will expand services to Celina.
You can find the city's updated strategic plan here.

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