Growth spurt

Rachael Scarborough King
Star Staff Writer
Published: June 9, 2006

ALEXANDRIA – Doug Trantham has lived and worked all his life on the Alexandria farm his father started in 1949.

As the surrounding community experiences a residential and commercial development surge, Trantham is changing his business model from large-scale staple crops to specialty produce for his farming shop.

“We’ll just change with it, whatever the growth is and demands, we will change to try to meet those demands,” Trantham said. “If we didn’t … it would put us out of business.”

Longtime Alexandria residents say they can see the community changing before their eyes.

The U.S. Census put the 2000 population of Alexandria at 3,692. Echols Bryant, an Alexandria resident and member of the Calhoun County Water Board, estimates that the number of new water meters in the area has grown by 10 percent a year in the last five years – a gauge of the number of houses being built.

“The growth is obvious,” said J.D. Hess, the Calhoun County commissioner for the Alexandria area.

Most in the community agree that the commercial and residential growth is inevitable and creates economic opportunity. But some say they would like the area to remain close to its rural farming roots.

Visitors driving north from Anniston on U.S. 431 still are greeted by the sight of the rolling pastures and grazing cows of Wright Dairy. But farther along are a large shopping center and the two-year-old Alexandria Foodland, a modern supermarket.

“I’d love to be able to go to the little store at the four-way stop and know everyone who walked up to the door there, but it’s just not that way anymore,” Trantham said.

In the new subdivision of Barrington Farms off Alabama 144, which still has several lots under construction, many houses are occupied by people who recently have moved from places such as Anniston and Oxford.

The houses in Barrington Farms range in price from $190,000 to $300,000, said Sam Almaroad, whose Almaroad Properties is developing the site.

“In today’s market (people) want a nice entrance, a nice subdivision … and that their property values go up rather than go down,” Almaroad said. “We’re really not driving at one certain market – as long as they qualify for that loan, we welcome them into that area.”

Barrington Farms eventually will contain 75 homes. Almaroad said all of the houses and lots currently available have been sold. His company recently broke ground on another Alexandria subdivision that will have 230 lots.

Many residents, old and new, pointed to the local schools as a big draw for newcomers. Heather Copland, who relocated from Anniston two months ago with her husband and 2 ½-year-old daughter, said her family “mostly moved out here for the school system.”

“It’s real quiet out here, it’s a nice neighborhood,” she said. “It has a small-town feel kind of away from all that in Oxford but close enough.”

Ronald Chambless, the principal of Alexandria High School for 17 years, said that in the past five years the incoming classes have grown by 30 to 40 students a year. This year he expects 60 more students in the fifth grade.

“It’s a darned good place to live, it’s the best place ’round here to live,” Chambless said. “We have a great school and great community.”

He added that Alexandria Elementary School is adding 13 classrooms in anticipation of the fifth grade joining the lower school after the next academic year and to accommodate the growth. The high school is expanding its dining room and library.

Chambless and several others said the rural or suburban nature of the community and its central location to Birmingham, Gadsden and Anniston are attractive.

“If I didn’t live in Alexandria and I heard about it and knew about it and talked to some of the people, this is where I’d want to live,” said Clarence Page, who has lived in Alexandria all of his 80 years. “I don’t ever intend to leave here.”

“People like to have the feeling of living outside,” County Commissioner Hess said. “It’s a very good environment to raise a family.”

Hess said the community has not seen a significant rise in crime with the new residents, but that it will have to put in an extensive sewer system to accommodate more growth. Additionally, the newly paved roads have caused some concern about speeding, which will have to be addressed if conditions become “dangerous and overcrowded,” he said.

Hess said most of the new residents are from other areas of Calhoun County. Page, however, said he thought there is now a higher proportion of “Yankees” in the area.

Almaroad, the Barrington Farms developer, said the residents there were split between those relocating from other Alexandria neighborhoods and those from other parts of Calhoun County. A small percentage is from out of state, he said.

Trantham said Alexandria’s ethnic and national diversity is increasing. He added that it seems that income levels are rising, both from new residents and the general economic development.

“I think we’re getting probably overall a higher income level (of) people,” he said. “We’re seeing more nice subdivisions, we’re not seeing the trailer park sort of stuff.”

But he added that Alexandria seems to be losing some of its close-knit, countryside nature.

“Deep down inside, I would like to stay a close, rural community, but when you have development your schools grow, your churches (grow) … so you just take it as a positive thing and go with it,” he said.

Now the baseball field at the Alexandria schools borders mounds of raw earth and backhoes. At Barrington Farms, which backs up to farm land, new residents are surrounded by bare red dirt and construction workers as development of vacant lots continues.

Page, a former county commissioner, echoed the feeling that some traditional characteristics of the area have been lost.

“I go down to the store … and I could set there at one time and I’d know 90 percent of the people that came in and out; and now I go down there and I don’t know 1 percent,” he said.

Both Trantham and Page, along with dairy farmer David Wright, said they thought the changes are normal and bring many good things to the community.

“I don’t have a problem with new folks coming in, everyone’s welcome as far as I’m concerned,” said Wright, who was a newcomer to Alexandria himself 30 years ago. “That’s just life, that’s the way things are – the area’s just growing.”

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