By Amanda Cowherd
Mason Times staff writer
Mason’s population increased almost 23 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the census, and growth continues. By 2020, there will be 10,000 people living in Mason, compared to the 8,252 recorded in the last census, predicted Chamber of Commerce Director Douglas Klein.
Klein said that Dart Container Corporation’s acquisition of Solo Cup Company in 2012 has brought the largest influx of residents—especially to the western part of Mason. Dart built a large warehouse in the past six months and will finish building a new administration building by the end of the summer. Klein said Dart hired 300 employees for its Mason facilities.
Klein said the growing population is leading to an increased need for products and services.
“We’ve had a lot of businesses pop up that we hadn’t had before,” Klein said.
On East Ash Street, buildings are being reconstructed and repurposed. Businesses will move in on the first floor, with apartments and meeting rooms above.
To cater to the aging boomers, massage therapists, physical therapists and chiropractors are coming to Mason. Beltone, a hearing aid center, is moving onto East Maple Street in downtown Mason to fulfill senior citizens’ demand.
“We have new businesses and old businesses both adapting to the change in the local community,” Klein said.
Hotel, motel and restaurant traffic has increased, according to Klein.
When Dart opens its new administration building, “we’re talking about putting in a food court because, quite frankly, our restaurants can’t handle all the traffic,” Klein said.
There may be room for new restaurants to open near the Dart factory, as well as a new hotel. Klein said this is the first time people are talking about opening a new hotel in 10 years.
To welcome residents and visitors, the Mason Area Chamber of Commerce established a visitors’ center in front of its offices. Although the chamber has provided information to residents for the past 30 years, in the past five years it has become a member of the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau—further designating the space as a welcoming center. Klein said an average of eight people come into the visitors’ center each day. During town events like the Sun Dried Music Festival, the chamber hosts a booth with flyers and guides.
Managing smart growth
Raymond Jussaume, Sociology Department chair at Michigan State University, said there are always costs associated with population growth.
“If you’re building, for example, new residential areas, you have to put in infrastructure services. You have to put in water, you have to put in sewers, you have to put in phone lines,” Jussaume said.
Jussaume said that populations have different needs, and for smart growth to happen, communities need to survey the new residents and find out what additional services they will require.
Zoning and Development Director David Haywood said, “If we see, in the next 10 years, another 15 percent growth, that would be about the limit of what we want to see. That’s a substantial amount of infrastructure investment.”
Mason has an aging wastewater treatment system, so Haywood said he hopes he can upgrade the system before another wave of growth. Recently, water and sewer rates have risen 15 percent. Haywood said this money will go toward the upgrade.
“We don’t want our growth to outpace what we’ve planned, because that creates a lot of stress on our utilities and our service that we provide to the community,” said Haywood.
Klein said, “I’m pretty optimistic about being able to provide a high level of quality of life for the residents here.”
A changing population
Haywood said, “We’ve had an increase in new home construction in the last two years, so we expect that the population is going to rise a little bit again.”
The new constructions are mostly subdivisions and condominiums. Haywood said local real estate agents have told him they can barely keep up with the demand, so he thinks the real estate market is strong.
Klein said, “We have a variety of different kinds of housing options in Mason, so we’re attracting a diversity of people of different income levels.”
Alaiedon Elementary School principal Lisa Francisco said Mason schools are experiencing a growth in their low socioeconomic population.
Mark Dillingham, superintendent of Mason Public Schools, said that Mason also has a small but significant Kosovo and Albanian population that has migrated in the past decade.
According the census, African Americans made up less than 1 percent of Mason’s population in 2000. That number jumped to almost 6 percent by 2010.
Jussaume said that diversity, a byproduct of the growth, is good for schools and students.
Dillingham said, “Mason is a little more diverse than some people might realize. We also have doubled our free and reduced lunch population over the past five years or so.”
Francisco said, “We do have more students who are at risk for learning achievement. We do our best with the resources that we have to differentiate instruction at the elementary level and to intervene with students as soon as we see their performance declining.”
Although City Clerk Deborah Cwiertniewicz said that the schools get more support from the state with higher attendance, Francisco said the school’s budget has continued to be cut.
“I think Gov. (Rick) Snyder has been very creative in the way in which he says he funds public schools. Because he may say that he’s giving more money per student, yet he takes away categorical funding, so in essence it is not an increase,” Francisco said.
Dillingham said they’ve grown 2 percent in kindergarten to 12th grade—in each of the past three school years—and that the elementary school buildings are nearing capacity.
“We are planning to budget for an increase of about 15 total students this year,” Dillingham said.
Cwiertniewicz said, “It benefits everyone when the schools are growing and thriving.”
Families and retirees alike live in Mason. Mason’s population is shaped like a bell curve, with people aged 10 to 50 making up the bulk of the population. This is a similar age mix as it was in 2000, according to the census.
Mason residents should expect their population to continue to grow in both size and diversity.