RIDGEFIELD — Timing was the big theme in Ridgefield on Monday.
Ridgefield School District officials, students, city officials and supporters gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony for the district’s upcoming 5-8 campus, the first new school built in Ridgefield in 40-plus years.
A few aggressive decisions early in the process to help speed things up have given the district a target date of August 2018 to finish construction, in time for the start of the 2018-2019 school year. The new campus, which will hold a 5-6 school and 7-8 school with shared services, will house about 1,250 students and allow the district to repurpose View Ridge Middle School, bringing students out of the increasingly crowded downtown Ridgefield.
To ensure that once the district’s $78 million bond passed — which it did with 68.82 percent of the vote in February — district officials got approval from the school board to go out and do design work for the new campus last year.
“Now not only can we hit the ground running, but it saved us some money,” Superintendent Nathan McCann said. “Most of our design work is done, and we were able to lock in some people to do the work.”
When factoring in for inflation and waiting to start the work now, McCann estimates the district saved around $2 million going out to bid early. He also said construction could begin as soon as the middle of this month.
“This doesn’t happen unless you sit down at the table and make tough decisions,” said Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow, who added that it’s “unheard of” for a school construction project to open up a year after passing a bond to fund the school.
The 145,000-square-foot facility will contain two gyms, a library and media center, band and choir rooms, a life skills suite and a black box theater. Adjacent to the new campus will be an outdoor sports complex, which the district will use for athletic teams and physical education classes, although no bond money will go toward the sports complex. The city will pay $5.035 million for the complex. The district also received $15.5 million from state matching funds to pair with the $78 million in bond money.
McCann said the new campus will be a big help to the district, where all four schools are currently over capacity. He also said a lot of people in the community have been waiting years for the district to open up the new campus. One such family is the Bartel family, who, in 2004, sold 50 acres of their farm to the district for $1,605,805. That land sits across South Hillhurst Road from Ridgefield High School, and is where the new 5-8 campus and sports complex will be located.
Pete Bartel was on hand Monday at the groundbreaking, and spoke to the crowd about the history of the land.
“They say it is hard to understand the present if you don’t know your past, so I am sort of the Ghost of Christmas Past today,” Bartel said, taking off his jacket to reveal he was wearing his Ridgefield High School sweater from 1971, the year he graduated.
Bartel chronicled his family’s history with the land, starting with his grandparents, Ida Meuler and Henry Bartel, who purchased the land more than 100 years ago. Pete Bartel’s father, Bill Bartel, was born on the land and grew up there, attending the Lambert School until eighth grade. Despite his high grades, his parents didn’t want him to continue his education, so he started farming on the land and kept it up until he was 85. That’s when he met with the district to sell part of the land in hopes they’d open a high school there, since he wasn’t allowed to go to high school. Even though it won’t be a high school, Pete Bartel said his dad would be happier a school was going on the land than more houses.
“Although he never got to see a school built, I think he would take a measure of satisfaction that two of his great-grandchildren won’t have to walk four miles to school, but will match his eighth-grade graduation on the very ground where he spent his entire life,” Bartel said.
Bartel’s father did eventually go back to school, taking a welding class at Clark College. He re-assembled a cracked school bell from the Lambert School, which the family still owns. Bartel said his mother used to ring it to tell them when to come in from the fields for dinner.
“They say on a still day, if you listen carefully, you can almost imagine that school bell beckoning the next generation,” Bartel told the crowd Monday.
A few seconds later, a school bell rang in the distance, slightly disappointing Bartel.
“We had it planned out, so when I pushed this button, my wife would know to ring the bell,” Bartel said, looking past the school district’s property to where his family lives. “I think she was waiting in the car because of the rain, so she had to get out of the car to go ring it. Our timing was a little off.”