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News / Clark County News

As Ridgefield grows, school district prepares to put bond back on ballot

Voters to weigh in on $107 million measure in February 2020 after $77 million package fell short earlier this year

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer
Published: October 31, 2019, 6:41pm
5 Photos
Austin Park, 3, watches a tour as school district patrons visit his class in the Early Learning Center at the Ridgefield Administrative and Civic Center.
Austin Park, 3, watches a tour as school district patrons visit his class in the Early Learning Center at the Ridgefield Administrative and Civic Center. (Nathan Howard/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — Ridgefield school officials and residents are gearing up for another campaign season, as the school district will most likely run a bond on the Feb. 11 ballot.

The district ran a $77 million bond in February of this year, but the measure fell short of the required 60 percent plus one vote supermajority. It finished with a 58 percent approval.

This time around, Ridgefield will ask district residents to pass a $107 million bond. The school board will vote to officially place the measure on the February ballot at its Nov. 12 meeting.

“The need continues to be heightened,” Superintendent Nathan McCann said.

The district’s growth predictions show Ridgefield will grow by roughly 1,760 students by the 2023-2024 school year, a 55 percent increase.

The district showed off plans in place to start housing those new students on Tuesday at a patron tour. About 20 community members interested in the future of the district toured expansion and improvements made at Ridgefield High School, land purchased in 2018 for a possible new elementary school and the district’s new Early Learning Center, which opened this school year.

Ridgefield has been named the fastest-growing city in the state three times since 2015. McCann isn’t sure when the growth will taper off, either. Clark County recently opened more than 2,000 acres north of Vancouver near the 179th Street/Interstate 5 interchange for development. Some of those new houses will fall within Ridgefield School District boundaries, and McCann said he’s heard the district could see construction as early as fall 2020.

“We’re not slowing down,” he said.

That’s partly why the district is going back to voters for a bond, and also asking for more money. The bond would pay for a new K-4 elementary school, a new 5-6 intermediate school, construction of inclusive playgrounds at South Ridge Elementary School and Union Ridge Elementary schools and expansion at Ridgefield High School, including building a new vocational building and repurposing the aging part of the facility for storage and warehouse space.

McCann said the bond money would be combined with impact fees and state assistance dollars to fund about $130 million of improvements in the district.

Should the bond pass, the new elementary school will be built on land the district purchased about a year ago. The 27-acre property is on the northeast side of the city, just east of Clark County Fire & Rescue’s Station 21, 911 N. 65th Ave.

The new intermediate school would be the first phase of building another 5-8 campus with connected schools, like Ridgefield did with the new View Ridge Middle School and Sunset Ridge Intermediate School. The 7-8 portion wouldn’t be built with the proceeds of this bond. McCann said the district would be eyeing land on the southern part of the district near that development around 179th for the new 5-8 campus.

A bond request for that, as well as finishing off the high school expansion project, couldn’t come until 2024 at earliest, McCann said, adding it would most likely be 2025. That’s because if the February bond passes, the district will reach its constitutional debt ceiling, which is 5 percent of assessed value of taxable properties in the district. McCann said the anticipated total assessed value of the district will be roughly $3.96 billion in 2021, the first year the 2020 bond would be on the books. That would put Ridgefield’s debt ceiling at nearly $200 million.

McCann said the district anticipates paying off the remainder of the $47 million 2012 bond by 2032, and paying off the $78 million 2017 bond by 2037.

Home of the portables?

The View Ridge-Sunset Ridge campus opened for the start of the 2018-2019 school year. This year, the campus is already at capacity and has two portable buildings, each of which has two classrooms. The campus will most likely need more portables for next school year, McCann said.

McCann said that if the bond doesn’t pass, the district will need an estimated 57 portable buildings — 114 classrooms — to house all the students. The district will have to pass a bond to buy land specifically to plop portables on.

The question then, and something McCann has been asked often, is why not just build bigger schools? He said the district can only build what there is money for, but, also, he doesn’t want Ridgefield to end up with partially full buildings if the growth projections don’t come true, or if there’s a downtick in enrollment.

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“We don’t want to be known for having the biggest schools in the state,” McCann said. “Our elementary schools have an average of 690 kids each. It’ll be more than 700 by the end of the school year.”

Columbian Staff Writer