YEARS OF PROGRESS: Columbia works to balance population, infrastructure

Sunday, April 21, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:28 a.m. CDT, Monday, April 22, 2013

COLUMBIA — The Missourian takes an in-depth look at how Columbia has evolved as a city in a special publication, "Years of Progress: Columbia has grown significantly but can the city keep up the pace?"

The publication is available online and as a downloadable e-book.

Here are the stories you can read:


Columbia has seen tremendous population growth over the past decade, demonstrated by booming student enrollment in Columbia Public Schools and at MU. But development in infrastructure such as water, housing and Interstate 70 has trailed behind.

Since 2002, the population of Columbia has grown from just under 90,000 to more than 110,000 in 2012. A range of statistics about budgets, education and construction helps tell the story about how the city has evolved over the past decade.

Community profiles

With the arrival of Jason Rytlewski to the Missouri Heart Center at Boone Hospital Center, patients can get advance heart treatment at home in Columbia rather than traveling two hours to St. Louis or Kansas City.

Tony Grove took after his father and grandfather by becoming a third-generation builder. He has been turning old buildings into new restaurants while keeping their old charm. 

Ernie's Cafe and Steak House has served meals to Columbia since 1934. Residents who participated in a sit-in and former employees make up some of the regulars.

At 60, Jim Shaw has spent his entire life working his piece of land, raising cattle on more than 140 acres and preserving a rural lifestyle. The Boone County Regional Sewer District used eminent domain to acquire just under 20 acres of his land last year.

Beth Newton incorporates new technology such as iPads and QR codes into her junior high school science classes. These allow her students to learn more independently with fewer lectures.

As a developer, Fred Overton lost almost everything during the recession. His farm helped him through the economic crisis, and even though the economy is recovering, he is still trying to make a profit off his lot.

Kenneth Wang, an MU assistant professor, uses his experiences growing up in both the U.S. and Taiwan to help MU international students learn how to adjust to multiple cultures.


The housing market is a leading indicator of a community economy, and Columbia's has recovered from its 2007 decline when the housing bubble burst.

The urban region has expanded into what were rural neighborhoods as recently as 2001. Subdivisions and duplexes have popped up on the eastern border of the city and the southwest corner.

Most of the construction that began in 2002, including many student housing complexes, is on the outskirts of the city, as shown in a graphic.


I-70 is currently carrying more than double its designed load through the city almost every day. A renovation of the interstate would help businesses, but comes with a $2 billion price tag and no source of funding yet.

More than $300 million has been spent upgrading and adding facilities, services and technology among three of the leading health care providers in the city over the past few years. These expansions will particularly help women, children, veterans and cancer patients.

The decrease in cost to produce solar energy has allowed Columbia to become a leader in solar energy use in the Midwest. Officials expect solar power will become almost 1 percent of the city's electricity in 2013.

Since 1982, water usage in the city doubled. In exchange for a promise to review the water system, the Water and Light Advisory Board agreed three new wells would be drilled.


An anticipated deficit for fiscal year 2014 and shrinking Missouri high school graduating classes has led MU to target out-of-state students to help supplement the budget.

Over the past 10 years, Columbia Public Schools have grown by more than 1,000 students. The community has been supportive of the need for growth and the majority of the district's funding comes from local sources, Superintendent Chris Belcher said.

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