RIDGEFIELD — The Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex, a project that officials from the city of Ridgefield and the Ridgefield School District have been discussing and formulating for the past couple of years, continues to come even closer to fruition.
This past August, Ridgefield City Council members approved the purchase of five acres from the Kennedy family and Urban NW Holdings, LLC, with an additional 2.5 acres to be donated as part of an amended 2008 development agreement. The city will use the 7.5 acres, along with a portion of 50 acres owned by the Ridgefield School District, for the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex.
The five-acre land purchase, which was approved by council members as part of the 2016 budget line item for design and land acquisition, cost the city $1,125,000, with the 2.5 additional acres donated. The land was paid for by $755,000 in park impact fees and $370,000 in real estate excise taxes.
“The genesis of this this project was a combination of needs expressed by the school district, sports clubs in the area and community members for outdoor recreation opportunities and the need for a new school to be built,” said Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart. “We realized that by leveraging all of our resources we could get more bang for the buck.”
The idea for the outdoor recreation complex first became a thought when school district officials started talking about how to use the 50 acres of land that they own across from the high school on South Hillhurst Road. The school district realized a need for a new 5th-6th grade intermediate school and 7th-8th grade middle school, and at the same time the city identified a need for outdoor recreation facilities. A partnership was quickly established in order to make these two ideas a reality.
In order to accommodate the need for the new schools, the school district will ask voters to approve a bond this coming February 2017. That still left a need, however, for an outdoor recreation facility that could meet the needs of not only the school district, but also the sports clubs and community members in Ridgefield, which is where the city comes in.
“We (the city) will save taxpayers within the school district between $5-8 million by building this project,” Stuart said. “That’s money that instead of being used in a bond can be put into classrooms. The school district owns the vast majority of the property, and the city will building everything except for the school buildings. We won’t be asking for any news taxes to fund the project. We will be using park impact fees and real estate excise taxes, and will have the option for a councilmatic internal bond.”
Stuart said the overall cost of building the complex is currently still being developed, but he expects the preliminary city investment to be somewhere between $15-20 million.
The initial process of planning the outdoor recreation complex consisted of bringing in a consulting team to talk with school district officials, coaches, teachers and staff in order to address the district’s existing and future needs, Stuart said. Open houses were then held in order to gain feedback from community members in regards to what they would like to see in the recreation facility.
“We had hundreds of people involved who expressed what they would like to see and how they would want the area to be configured,” Stuart said. “We had great community involvement. That was how we came up with the initial site plan.”
Some of the needs identified by the school district and by area sports clubs included more field space for a variety of sports such as soccer and baseball. For example, Stuart said Ridgefield is one of the only schools in the area that doesn’t have separate fields for both varsity and junior varsity baseball. This will change with the new complex.
In regards to the sports clubs in Ridgefield, Stuart said the number of children participating in different sports clubs has outgrown Abrams Park where they all currently play.
“At Abrams Park, on any given Saturday in the fall, the parking is overflowing because of Little League baseball and soccer,’ Stuart said. “We have some 1,300 kids in youth baseball and soccer and they need a place to play. We’ve outgrown Abrams.”
Stuart said the configuration of the new outdoor recreation complex would allow for at least six Little League fields, at least four full-size fields and six full soccer or lacrosse fields. There would also be fields for youth football. The complex would utilize artificial turf, which Stuart said would allow for even more capacity and adversity for uses.
In addition to sports fields, the future outdoor recreation complex could potentially also offer open spaces to gather and play, an indoor facility, child play spaces, picnic areas, shelters a connected trail system and more.
“The city’s goal is to be able to serve the existing and future needs of the community while also making sure the school district has everything they need to be successful,” Stuart said. “We want to be able to serve kids and families well into the future.”
Stuart said the next phase in the plan for the complex will be an agreement between the school district and the city on the preliminary site plan, something that should be happening soon. That phase will continue with additional agreements, engineering and permitting — “everything but construction” — until approximately June 2017.
At that point, Stuart said they would hope to begin site work (roadways in and out, sewer lines, everything except for structures). By spring of 2018, he said they would aim to put in surfaces and structures, and hope to be ready for kids by late spring/early summer of 2018.
If the city holds anymore community open houses/meetings on the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex, they will be listed on the city’s website in advance.