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News / Clark County News

Advisory committee to recommend new Ridgefield schools, more classrooms

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer
Published: May 23, 2016, 6:06am
6 Photos
Two portable buildings hold four classrooms to help View Ridge Middle School deal with overcrowding. All schools in the Ridgefield School District are over capacity, and the district is searching for solutions to the city’s rapid growth.
Two portable buildings hold four classrooms to help View Ridge Middle School deal with overcrowding. All schools in the Ridgefield School District are over capacity, and the district is searching for solutions to the city’s rapid growth. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

It’s no secret that Ridgefield’s population is growing, and city and school officials now have the task of figuring out where to put everyone.

At the Ridgefield School District’s board of directors meeting May 10, the board voted in favor of an item to add modular classrooms to Union Ridge and South Ridge elementary schools, meaning that starting next school year, all four schools in the district will have mobile classrooms.

Each modular unit contains two classrooms, so the 11 being added to the two elementary schools total 22 classrooms.

“Our schools are over capacity,” Superintendent Nathan McCann said. “The only way to fix that immediately in time for the fall is to add modulars.”

Public Meeting

What: Ridgefield School District’s board of directors meeting, where the Capital Facilities Advisory Committee will present their suggestions for handling growth in the district.

When: 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Where: Ridgefield High School, Room 311, 2630 S. Hillhurst Road, Ridgefield.

A handout from the school district states that as of March, South Ridge Elementary School had an enrollment of 577 students and capacity of 525 students, Union Ridge Elementary School had an enrollment of 800 students and a capacity of 700 students, View Ridge Middle School had an enrollment of 386 students and capacity of 297 students and Ridgefield High School had an enrollment of 696 students and a capacity of 637 students.

The district set up a Capital Facilities Advisory Committee last year to go over the needs of the district and come up with a plan for the future. The committee will present some of their plans to the board at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

“We’re going to put a bond on the ballot in February,” McCann said. “We haven’t made that a secret. We’ve been open with the community that we’re going to put a bond up for vote, and that it will most likely be north of $90 million.”

The reason the bond is expected to be for such a large amount is the population in Ridgefield could grow so much that the district might more than double its current number of schools.

Amy Draper, co-chair of the committee, said about 30 people from the community were involved with the committee. She has two kids in the high school and two children in elementary school, and she wanted to get involved with the district’s planning for the future.

The committee talked to parents, teachers, students and community members, and she said the overwhelming response was the biggest issue facing the district is classroom space. The idea they’d like to see the district pursue is to break up the schools. Currently, the two elementary schools house students from kindergarten through sixth grade, students in seventh and eighth grade go to View Ridge Middle School, and Ridgefield High School is for students in ninth through 12th grade.

The committee suggests the district add two new schools immediately, one for fifth- and sixth-graders and a seventh- and eighth-grade school to replace View Ridge. The idea is to have separate schools on one campus, with shared spaces, such as the food service area, library and cafeteria.

“We just need more space for the students coming in,” Draper said. “We looked at all the different options to add space for our students, and the best choice we’ve come up with is building a new middle school, a new seven-eight campus, and on that same campus, building a new five-six campus.”

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The most likely location for the two new schools is across South Hillhurst Road from the high school, where the district owns about 50 acres of undeveloped land. There has also been talk of turning it into a joint project with the city, where the land will house the new schools and an outdoor recreation facility to be used by the school district, sports clubs and the public.

“Instead of everybody building their own thing, which would cost more and take up more space, building a shared space would create a better benefit for lower cost,” said Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart. “The only way that happens is through partnerships. We’re blessed to have good partnerships in Ridgefield with people who understand the value of doing things together.”

The joint project would give the city somewhere to put the sports complex, and help the district with the cost of the project.

“It would put more bond revenue into the classroom,” Stuart said.

Other projects the committee is suggesting the district should look into sooner are safety upgrades at the schools and expanding the high school, possibly by knocking down a school building and replacing it with a larger classroom pod.

But the committee didn’t just look at the next few years of growth in the district. The committee has a vision for how the district could look in 2035.

If growth continues, the committee thinks there could be: four elementary schools at 600 to 650 students each, two fifth- and sixth-grade schools at 500 to 550 students each, two seventh- and eighth-grade schools at 500 to 550 students each, one high school at 1,600 to 1,800 students, one alternative high school at 100 to 200 students and one specialty high school at 100 to 200 students that is potentially on a partner site, like the new Clark College campus coming to the city.

“Driving into Ridgefield, it’s easy to see the growth,” Draper said. “This isn’t going to be a surprise to anyone. We want everyone to be aware of our urgent needs, and we want them to know this bond has been thought out and well planned and will benefit our students.”

The city is also planning for growth. Stuart said the city had a population around 7,000 people at the end of last year, and he anticipates about 1,000 new residents moving to Ridgefield this year. He also said projections are for around 300 new single-family resident permits for the year.

In the city’s recently completed 20-year comprehensive plan, the city is planning to accommodate a 2035 population of 25,494 residents and 8,708 new jobs.

“We’re planning to make sure there are plenty of jobs for those people (and) services for them, and on preserving the qualities of Ridgefield that make it so special: the natural environment, the connection with nature, the great schools, that small-town feel we all enjoy,” Stuart said.

Draper said she thinks the community will be supportive of the committee’s ideas and the bond.

“I don’t know if anyone is ever thrilled about a bond, but they are thrilled that the district is looking around and trying to keep our schools great,” she said. “Ridgefield School District is in a great position right now. People are moving to Ridgefield because of the great schools.”

Columbian Staff Writer