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News / Clark County News

Bond sequel for Ridgefield School District comes amid rapid growth

Vote on $77 million request comes less than two years after $78M bond passed

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer
Published: January 24, 2019, 6:05am
4 Photos
Senior Ashley Glidewell, 18, demonstrates how to use an oxyacetylene torch in the aging metal shop at Ridgefield High School. The school district is running a $77 million bond in a special election on Feb. 12, and if the bond passes, some of the money will go toward modernizing the metal and wood shops at the school, which have gone mostly unchanged since they were built in the mid-1970s.
Senior Ashley Glidewell, 18, demonstrates how to use an oxyacetylene torch in the aging metal shop at Ridgefield High School. The school district is running a $77 million bond in a special election on Feb. 12, and if the bond passes, some of the money will go toward modernizing the metal and wood shops at the school, which have gone mostly unchanged since they were built in the mid-1970s. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — While using one of Ridgefield High School metal shop’s oxyacetylene torches, Ashley Glidewell knows she can’t push too much oxygen into the dirty and damaged tip of the welding tool or else she’ll hear a series of “popping” sounds, and the tool will shut down.

Another welding station doesn’t work at all, and only more experienced students are allowed to set up the shop’s forge because it’s so temperamental.

“We do what we can,” said Glidewell, 18, a senior at the school. “We make it work. Some of this stuff is just completely out of our control.”

The metal shop sits next to the school’s woodworking shop. They are both mostly unchanged since they were built in the mid-1970s.

The school district is hoping to change that. Ridgefield will run a $77 million bond in a special election Feb. 12.

The district estimates the tax rate including bond will be $4.43 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The 2018 rate was $4.34 per $1,000 of assessed value, which is expected to drop in 2019. The 2018 rate increased partially due to the Legislature’s McCleary fix, which saw the state pump $7.3 billion into education and another $1 billion in for teacher salaries in 2018.

The McCleary decision also caps how much districts can ask for in local levies. Ridgefield’s levy was $2.24 per $1,000 of assessed value, but will be capped at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

If the bond passes, the district will use $7.5 million of that to renovate and modernize the vocational programs at the high school.

“Our students are not being prepared properly to go into these fields by working with such out-dated equipment,” said Allen Andringa, vice principal at Ridgefield High School. “Schools made mistakes in the 1990s by getting rid of these programs. Thankfully Ridgefield didn’t, but we have to update some things. There are six-figure jobs unfilled out there because students aren’t learning the right training to do them.”

Glidewell said she first took an interest in welding when she was 10 or 11 and her stepfather worked at a local fabrication shop close to their house. Still, she didn’t think of it as a possible profession until she got to Ridgefield High School and started taking shop classes. After graduating, she hopes to study environmental biology, get certified as a SCUBA diver and go into underwater welding.

“I never would’ve seen me working in the industry if it wasn’t for these shop classes,” she said.

Bond numbers

A bulk of the bond money will go toward a new K-4 elementary school, which is expected to cost around $51.8 million. In October, the school board approved a purchase of 27 acres in the Claiborne Acres section of the city, south of Northeast 279th Street and east of North 65th Avenue. The property, which is expected to house the new elementary school, is on the northeast side of the city, just east of Clark County Fire & Rescue’s Station 21, 911 N. 65th Ave.

The 2019 bond also has $29.8 million earmarked for more high school expansion, $1.1 million for covered play areas at all elementary schools, $4.4 million for heating and cooling upgrades at South Ridge Elementary School and Union Ridge Elementary School and about $400,000 for safety and security updates. The district will use the $77 million in bond money and leverage it with $15 million in state assistance and $3 million in school impact fee revenue to complete all those projects.

Nearly two years ago, voters passed a $78 million bond in the district, which was used to build a new 5-8 campus, expand the high school and repurpose the old View Ridge Middle School into the new Ridgefield Administrative and Civic Center.

“I’m not unaware that we passed a bond two years ago,” Superintendent Nathan McCann said. “We’re a rapidly-growing community, and that puts stress on a school district. Schools are foundational to the quality of growth that comes in a community.”

In 2018, information put out by the U.S. Census Bureau stated that Ridgefield’s population grew 13 percent between 2016 and 2017, making it the fastest growing city in the state. Ridgefield also earned that honor between 2013 and 2014. The school district had 3,166 students as of Jan. 3. McCann said enrollment is at capacity at South Ridge, over capacity at the high school and at capacity at the new 5-8 campus, which is made up of a 5-6 school and 7-8 school with shared services.

“Our growth projections have the district getting another 1,422 new kids by 2022,” McCann said. “That’s two good-sized schools. It’s a 45 percent increase in enrollment.”

A bond requires a 60 percent supermajority to pass, and McCann has seen some chatter online about residents angry or fatigued the district is coming back so soon for more money.

“I don’t live in a bubble,” he said. “I didn’t think the next bond would be so soon. I thought we had another year or two before we’d have to run one. I don’t think the next one will be coming in two years, either.”

But another bond is probably coming. The 2019 bond is Phase III in the district’s plan to deal with growth. The first phase was the 2012 bond, a 20-year bond that allowed the district to add classrooms and services to the high school, Union Ridge and South Ridge. Phase II was the 2017 bond, a 21-year bond. 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.

School impact fees rise

Ridgefield city councilors will vote tonight on an ordinance that can also bring in more revenue to the school district when councilors vote to amend how much the district collects from school impact fees. School districts are not authorized to set the rate or collect the fees, which are in place to ensure that development pays a share of the cost for new facilities needed to serve growth. The fees, which come from new single- and multi-family housing construction, can only cover building projects, such as new construction or buying property.

In the 2016 comprehensive plan, the city adopted a school impact fee rate of $6,530 with an indexing system to keep rate with construction costs. According to Ridgefield city code, if there was an increase in those fees for three years in a row, it had to come back to council so they could evaluate where things were at, City Manager Steve Stuart said.

There has been an increase in those fees the last three years, and the school impact fee rate is currently at $7,107. The city uses the same fee for single-family and multi-family housing.

Councilors will vote tonight to ramp up the fees and indexing system, so it incrementally increases to $11,289.53, a 59 percent increase between 2018 to 2021. The fees would increase to $8,900 in 2019, $9,900 in 2020 and $11,289.53 in 2021.

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Columbian Staff Writer