WASHINGTON — Even though troops haven’t moved into town yet, officials in the Fort Riley area already are fixing potholes, looking for classroom space and building houses as fast as they can.

Among the moves U.S. Army Europe announced Thursday, some 3,000 soldiers and family members will be heading to Fort Riley, Kan., this year.

John Armbrust, executive director of the Kansas Governor’s Military Council, said officials anticipate more than 20,000 new people moving into the region over the next five years. That number includes not just military and their family, but also Kansas residents relocating for new jobs anticipated in the area.

So officials have been scrambling to upgrade the local infrastructure. Armbrust said that giant steps are still needed in community services and road improvements before they’ll be able to handle the new influx, but the region has gotten a jump on improving the housing market.

“We anticipate between 8,000 and 9,000 housing units in the next five years, but we’ll need at least 6,000 of them by mid-2008,” he said. “But we already have about 1,800 under construction and another 1,200 to 1,300 with some infrastructure in. It’s going to be tight, but we’re good so far.”

Rich Rothfuss, co-owner of Junction City’s R&R Developers Inc. and Matlock-Johnson Realtors, said he is seeing new duplexes selling for $125,000 a side, and new condos going in the $120,000 range. Larger, free-standing single-family homes with around 1,700 square feet of space are selling for between $150,000 and $180,000.

“We have 350 units being put in on the north side of town alone,” he said. “It takes time, especially to get the rooftops up, but we’ve already got our first set open and ready to move in.”

Sheila Burdett, a Century 21 Agent in Junction City, said she has seen a lot of the new homes being pre-sold, but said she expects that trend to open up some less expensive pre-existing homes in the area. She doesn’t expect any of the new construction locally to cost more than the low $200,000s.

Burdett said she expects most of the new rental units in Junction City to stay in the $600 to $800 range for a basic two-bedroom apartment.

Charles Rich, of Little Apple Real Estate in Manhattan, said he expects $600-per-month apartments to be hard to find in the region, but he said even three-bedroom units shouldn’t top $1,000 a month.

He added that while many in the area are accustomed to buying homes for less than $100,000, he expects those deals to be rare in the future. Still, he agreed that even the most expensive housing in the region won’t stretch much about $200,000, at least in the next few years.

Traditionally, between 40 percent and 45 percent of Fort Riley’s military families live in the Junction City area of Geary County, Armbrust said. About 36 percent of the families live in the Manhattan-Ogden area, and the rest are strewn in communities within a 30-mile radius of the post.

But Charles Volland, a spokesman for Geary County Schools, said his school district expects between 1,000 and 1,200 new students in the first year, and up to 3,000 new students over the next two years.

The school district currently has 6,300 students, with five elementary schools on-base six elementary schools off-base, one middle school and one high school. Volland said the school district recently passed a $33 million bond for a new middle school and elementary school, so the district should be able to accommodate the new students.

“We have capacity to absorb what we believe is the first wave [of new students] that will start arriving over the spring and summer,” he said.

If necessary, the school district could teach students in trailers, but the district hopes that won’t be necessary with the two new schools, he said.

In Riley County, school district officials in the Manhattan-Ogden area recently decided to keep open an elementary school slated to be closed, said Superintendent Robert Shannon.

The district has 5,200 students with eight elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school at two campuses, Shannon said. Typically, about 10 percent of district students come from Fort Riley families, but that number already is edging upward with the addition of 124 new students from military families this school year.

“In the next couple of months, our board will be considering looking at facilities studies and what the next two to 20 years for us will be,” Shannon said.

He said the school district anticipates anywhere between 700 and 1,200 new students from military families.

“We have facilities to accommodate several hundred,” Shannon said. “On the upper end of that we would be very tight.”

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