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May 13, 2021

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Amid growth, Ridgefield schools plan next bond measure

New campus opens in late August, but district says significant needs remain

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published:
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Construction continues on the new campus set to open in the Ridgefield School District in August after being largely funded from a $78 million bond in 2017.
Construction continues on the new campus set to open in the Ridgefield School District in August after being largely funded from a $78 million bond in 2017. Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — When Ridgefield School District’s new campus opens on Aug. 29, it will be near capacity.

The new Sunset Ridge Intermediate School and replacement View Ridge Middle School are expected to accommodate roughly 1,200 students in fifth through eighth grades. When the two connected schools open for the first time in August, somewhere around 1,000 students could be in the building, Superintendent Nathan McCann said.

While the new schools will help with overcrowding, growth is still coming to the district. According to U.S. Census Bureau information released in May, Ridgefield’s population grew 13 percent between 2016 and 2017, the fastest growth rate of any city in Washington. At that time, McCann said enrollment is expected to increase 47 percent over the next four years.

To help deal with the new students, the district has started the process to put a bond up for vote in February 2019, which would be two years after residents approved a $78 million bond vote.

“We wouldn’t run a bond if it wasn’t absolutely necessary,” McCann said. “These are bonds of need.”

That’s why the Capital Facilities Advisory Committee started back up last fall to look into the district’s next phase for growth. At a meeting last Tuesday, the committee recommended the district put another bond up for vote in 2019 to bring in money to build a new kindergarten-fourth grade school and continue to expand Ridgefield High School.

“No one is thrilled to pass another bond, but (residents) see the need is there with the growth,” said Amy Draper, co-chair of the committee along with Dana Ziemer.

The committee was made up of 20-plus community members, district staffers and parents, slightly down from the 30 or so who participated in the committee before the 2017 bond vote.

“The second time, we didn’t have as big of a task because we knew going into it that we were going to need a new elementary school,” Draper said. “We spent a lot of time discussing the needs of the elementary school, what our district needed in a new elementary school.”

The new K-4 school would be roughly 72,000 square feet and accommodate 550 students. In talking to teachers and district staffers, the committee recommends that the elementary school be flexible. Draper said the school should be adaptable to 21st century learning environments that allow for a lot of collaboration.

“We also want it to be a building specific for children in grades (K-4), so sink heights and drinking fountains should be at a children’s level,” Draper said. “It should be built for younger kids who will utilize the school so they feel comfortable in that building.”

The committee also called for additional expansion at the high school. The district is currently working on expanding the high school as part of the 2017 bond, and the committee’s recommendations for a 2019 bond called for the district to raze the 200 Building at the high school and replace it with a two-story building. It would be the first two-story building at Ridgefield High School, and could increase capacity by 400-500 students.

The committee also recommended some bond money be used to remodel the high school’s career and technical education building and bring covered play areas to South Ridge Elementary School and Union Ridge.

Elementary school and safety and security upgrades would also be undertaken around the district.

Four phases

The February bond issue would be the third phase in the district’s four-phase plan to deal with growth. The first phase was the 2012 bond issue, which allowed the district to add classrooms and services to the high school, Union Ridge and South Ridge. Phase II was the 2017 bond issue, and Phase IV would increase K-12 capacity by possibly building a new K-4 school, 5-6 and 7-8 buildings and a small specialty or alternative high school.

McCann said the district is still working to figure out how much to ask for in the 2019 bond, but that it could be “slightly smaller” than the $78 million voters approved in 2017. That bond leveraged state matching dollars to bring in more than $90 million worth of construction to Ridgefield. According to the committee’s presentation on Tuesday, the recommended Phase III projects would cost around $87.5 million.

While the board has some time to decide on whether to not to run a bond vote in February, the committee plans on starting design work on the new K-4 school this summer. With the new 5-8 campus, the district started design work before the bond vote. That way, after residents approved the bond in February 2017, the district broke ground on the campus in May 2017 and the campus will open a little more than a year later.

On a recent tour, the new school was clearly taking shape. The black box theater, which will be a more intimate performance shape for students throughout the district to use, was painted and awaiting its seats. The first furniture delivery is expected in early July, and the construction crews were preparing to install turf on one of the athletic fields.

“Everything is on pace,” McCann said. “We’ll be ready.”

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