Tuesday, June 28, 2022
June 28, 2022

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Ridgefield School District’s dilemma: More students, same space

Officials weigh options in light of construction bond’s fifth straight failure

By , Columbian staff writer
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4 Photos
Seventh-grader Iiaston Kory, 12, foreground, joins fellow students as they gather in the cafeteria at View Ridge Middle School before school earlier this month. District officials have identified the View Ridge complex, which shares space with Sunset Intermediate School, as perhaps the most crowded place in the district. Possible plans to alleviate overcrowding at the school include converting extracurricular spaces like the wrestling room and theater to new classrooms.
Seventh-grader Iiaston Kory, 12, foreground, joins fellow students as they gather in the cafeteria at View Ridge Middle School before school earlier this month. District officials have identified the View Ridge complex, which shares space with Sunset Intermediate School, as perhaps the most crowded place in the district. Possible plans to alleviate overcrowding at the school include converting extracurricular spaces like the wrestling room and theater to new classrooms. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Following the Ridgefield School District’s fifth consecutive bond failure last month, district officials are weighing options of how to best move forward without the funds necessary to build a new elementary school.

The new school — along with an expansion to Ridgefield High School that would have also been funded by the bond — was the first step in Ridgefield’s long-term plan to alleviate intense population increases that have overwhelmed the district over the last decade.

Superintendent Nathan McCann and other district officials had scheduled to release a fleshed-out alternative plan during a board meeting Tuesday. Due to delays in assessments of the district’s boundaries, however, Ridgefield had to move the presentation to May 24.

With the bond’s narrow failure in April, it will no longer be possible for a new elementary school to be finished in time for the 2023-24 school year — a timeline that the district had repeatedly hoped to meet.

Census data shows that Ridgefield’s population has more than doubled in the last decade, from 4,763 residents in 2010 to 10,319 in 2020. That increase has been reflected in the schools, with a nearly 65 percent increase in enrollment between 2014-15 and 2021-22.

In April, McCann delivered a series of contingency plans to the district’s board of directors for ways to alleviate overcrowding even without a new elementary school.

“We’ve talked for a long time as if ‘Plan A’ was the bond passing and ‘Plan B’ was something else,” McCann said. “Right now, we need to be very real that perhaps Plan A is what happens if the bond does not pass.”

The first of such plans would be to redraw attendance boundaries between the district’s two elementary schools: Union Ridge and South Ridge.

As of the start of the 2021-22 school year, Union Ridge has 802 students enrolled despite an intended capacity of 655. South Ridge has 570 students with an intended capacity of 542. District spokesperson Joe Vajgrt anticipates that each school will see an increase of about 80 to 100 students at the start of next school year.

Schools throughout the district have resorted to temporary solutions for years, such as filling parking lots with portable classrooms. The district is working with KWRL Transportation to help assess its infrastructure and transportation capabilities so boundaries could be reestablished to balance enrollments between the two schools.

“Changing attendance boundaries requires a lot of logistical planning, so we’re working closely with KWRL on this aspect of planning to ensure that bus routes are feasible and the correct number of students would be moving from URES to SRES to help balance enrollments,” Vajgrt said.

Along with the boundary-shifting proposal, another contingency plan would be to convert multipurpose spaces used for assemblies or extracurricular activities to classrooms.

Though the elementary school overcrowding is a significant example of imbalance in populations, McCann pointed to the district’s intermediate/middle school complex of Sunset Intermediate and View Ridge Middle schools as perhaps the most dire pinch in terms of physical space. The wrestling room and/or the black box theater at View Ridge, he said, would need to be converted into classroom spaces.

Year-round calendar

Should the population increase continue at a more rapid rate into the 2023-24 school year, Ridgefield is also considering using multitrack year-round calendars. In this scenario, students and teachers would be divided into four groups with staggered schedules so that at any given time, 75 percent of the student body would be in school, while the remaining 25 percent would be on a short break. Each group would attend for three weeks and then be off for one week throughout the year.

Though possible, Assistant Superintendent Chris Griffiths said, the concept is less than ideal.

“It would limit the ability for teachers and students to feel as if they own a classroom, because when they leave, another teacher and their students are returning to take that place,” Griffiths said. “It would really hinder the ability for the culture and climate for students and staff throughout the year.”

Ridgefield officials have also considered simply adding more portable classrooms but noted that in addition to that option being expensive, the district simply doesn’t own sufficient land to house the number of portables needed to serve the anticipated enrollment growth.

Decisions on a recommended plan and details on what might be most feasible are expected to be unveiled in detail during the Ridgefield board of directors’ meeting on May 24.

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