A Des Moines Custom Home Builder Blog

Altoona: Small Town, Big Opportunities

Posted by Don Brill on May 26, 2016

Family walking in park 

If you want the feeling of a small town with the conveniences of a larger community, look no farther than Altoona, Iowa. This quiet suburb has a population of under 15,000 but is only about 8 miles from downtown Des Moines. It offers excellent schools, affordable communities, and an “exceptionally livable” environment (according to AreaVibes). As an added bonus, it also has its own amusement park!

This article belongs to the Construction Process Series 

Close and Convenient 

Situated just east of downtown Des Moines, Altoona is about a 20-minute drive from both the Des Moines International airport and the downtown areas. Altoona itself is just over 9 miles square, with charming restaurants, shops, and museums as well as conveniences like Lowe’s, Target, Wal-Mart, and Iowa’s first Bass Pro Shop.


Thriving Economy

Living in Altoona makes good financial sense. It has a low cost of living, high rate of employment, and high average income (its median household income is 27% higher than the U.S. overall). The rate of unemployment is lower and the rate of poverty in Altoona is less than half of what is found across Iowa; it has half the rate of unemployment and one-third of the rate of poverty compared to the national average. City taxes are among the lowest in the Des Moines metro area, too.

One of the reasons for the thriving economy is the arrival of tech companies. Facebook just expanded its Altoona data center campus by adding a $300 million, 476,000-square-foot building. Facebook employs 75 employees in the data center, which is staffed continuously. In addition to being a growing employer, Facebook is a great neighbor: “Facebook is community minded and community involved," Altoona Mayor Skip Conkling said. "The $75,000 (Facebook) has put into nonprofits around here since April of 2013, that's just the beginning." Also, the data center runs entirely on renewable energy, powered by a Wellsburg wind farm.

Other large companies, including Microsoft and Google, have tech centers in the Des Moines metro area, and new, smaller tech companies are also flourishing. The state is gaining a reputation as a hub for data centers, supported by the state's cheap land, low natural disaster risk, optical fiber cable network, and welcoming tax credit programs.


Building a Home

Altoona is a great place to build a home. Housing costs are 13% lower than the national average, and Altoona’s Urban Revitalization Plan can make it even more economically feasible. Qualified new residential construction is entitled to an exemption from taxation for the first $75,000.00 of your home’s actual value for five years. To qualify, your property must be in an approved subdivision, your new home must be owner-occupied, and if the property is within a plat approved after December 31, 2006, your lot may be required to have two hardwood trees.

Example:  If your qualifying new home is assessed at $200,000.00, the abatement effectively reduces your home’s assessed value to $125,000.00 for property taxation purposes for the first five years.



Altoona public schools are part of the recognized Southeast Polk Community School District. Altoona’s Willowbrook Elementary School and the district as a whole have been past recipients of the Iowa Board of Education Breaking Barriers Award, which recognizes schools that narrow achievement gaps while continuing to challenge high-achieving students.

Additionally, the district has been recognized in the Iowa AP Index for the Top 50 Schools for seven of the last 10 years. This ranking is based on the number of graduates and number of students who complete advanced placement (AP) exams. The district’s graduation rate is an impressive 98.6% (compared to 83.3% in the Des Moines metro area as a whole), and student proficiency in both reading and math is higher than the national and statewide averages.

The Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) main campus, Drake University, and Grand View University all offer opportunities for further education within 10 miles of Altoona, and Iowa State University is about a 45-minute drive.


Lifestyle and Leisure

Altoona offers beautiful recreational bike trails and natural outdoor activities. The Enabling Garden is a horticultural haven located on the Vern Willey II Trail. Designed to be accessible to all, the garden hosts gardening talks and children’s art activities; it also includes a series of enormously oversized insect sculptures and a hands-on interactive garden for kids. It also hosts events like the annual Wine and Craft Beer fest, where makers of Iowa wines and craft beer showcase their creations and attendees enjoy sampling some of the best beers and wines the state has to offer. (This year’s event is on June 17th.)

The Altoona Campus offers recreational health and fitness programming for kids and adults, as well as a before-Outlaw_Adventureland.jpg and after-school Kids’ Club on site at district elementary schools and summer day camps. The Altoona Aquatics Park offers swimming lessons and other aquatic fun during the warm Iowa summers. 

Altoona is also home to the family-owned Adventureland amusement park. Operating since 1975, it offers traditional favorites like carnival games and rides along with an elaborate modern water park and cutting-edge roller coasters. (The Monster, which is scheduled to debut this summer, will feature a beyond-vertical drop.) For more adult entertainment, the Prairie Meadows complex has a racetrack, casino, hotel, restaurants, performance hall, and events center.


If you’re ready to explore Altoona and find the perfect place to build a home for your family, contact Homes by Brill custom home builders. We can help you find land in Altoona, Ankeny, JohnstonWaukee, or other communities in the Des Moines metro area. We can also help you obtain financing and design and build the perfect home for your family. Contact us today to get started!


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Topics: Moving Your Family