The pared down bond would build a K-6 school, new playgrounds, and purchase land for a future campus
RIDGEFIELD — After falling just a handful of votes shy of the 60 percent majority needed to pass a $107 million building bond earlier this month, the Ridgefield Schools Board of Directors voted unanimously on Tuesday to send a trimmed down bond to voters in April.
The new bond totals $58,465,000, which would include $12.7 million in state funding, as well as $5.7 million in school impact fees from new construction. That means the voters will be asked to kick in $40,465,000, which would amount to an estimated 34 cents per thousand dollars of assessed value on a home, or an increase of $158 a year on the tax bill of a $466,000 home.
The funding would be used to build a new 75,000-square-foot K-4 school, which would initially house K-6 students until funding can be secured to start construction on a new intermediate campus for 5th-6th and 7th-8th students.
“It will take a little of the stress, temporarily,” said district Superintendent Nathan McCann. “It’s not a long-term solution, but it does help us buy some time in the short term.”
Board member Joe Vance noted that there remains community support for new schools as the district continues to see rapid population growth.
“We have land that’s already been purchased. We have a school that’s already been designed, and we have a school that’s ready to be permitted,” said school board member Joseph Vance. “And for me, it’s just a no brainer. I can’t see how anybody wouldn’t be in support of building that building.”
Outside of the K-4 school, the bond would also pay to build new all-inclusive playgrounds at South Ridge and Union Ridge elementary schools, as well as purchase land for the future intermediate schools and begin preliminary design work on those.
“There’s one thing that we know about the globe. It is not getting larger, right,” said McCann. “The same size now as it’s always been, and land in Clark County will become scarcer, not more available.”
During a budget presentation earlier in the meeting, the board was informed that student populations in the district have exceeded even what was anticipated in this year’s budget. That means more funding from the state, but it also means concerns about more than 1,700 new students in just the next few years appear to be more likely, barring an economic downturn in the near future, said McCann.
Rick Yeo, a founding partner with R&C Management, which is designing the new schools, said getting the bond approved in April would allow them to start building before new codes go into effect on July 1, and could save millions in costs due to inflation, even though it appears that has tapered off a bit.
“Historically, the last five years, inflation in construction has been running 7 to 8 percent a year,” Yeo told the board. “We’re thinking that has tailed off a little bit.”
Still, he noted, the district stands to lose the $12.5 million in state matching funds if they don’t move ahead with the building in the near future, meaning a future bond could be up to $15 million higher to build the same amount of new space.
The other reason for putting a new bond on the April 28 special election ballot, rather than waiting until August, or pushing it back until next year, McCann said, was that they believe it’s still possible to get the new school built in time for the 2021-22 year if they get the funding soon.
“It will be tight, but we’re confident that we can make that happen and we can open school that
year with the new elementary school,” he told the board.
Board member Scott Gullickson also noted that people may not be aware that much of the area around the Clark County Fairgrounds, and east of I-5 along 179th Street is within the Ridgefield School District boundary. That area is set for a massive explosion of growth over the next five years, following the lifting of urban holding by the County Council late last year.
By some estimates, as many as 5,500 new homes could be built in the 179th Street area by the end of the decade, many of which would be within the Ridgefield School District boundary.
“That is our backyard, and we are responsible as a district for educating those kids that are going to be coming in those areas,” Gullickson said.
Responding to concerns raised by members of the community that the district is building “Taj Mahal” schools, and spending more than is needed, McCann said the design of the new elementary school is based off the Union Ridge B building, specifically to lower costs.
“We’re not looking to win architectural awards,” said McCann. “We’re proud of our buildings, we want them to look nice and we want them to be well built. And we believe in value for the long term.”
McCann also noted the budget for new playgrounds at Union Ridge and South Ridge is $300,000 each, rather than the “millions” some people assumed, and he’s hopeful they can come in under budget on those.
Vance went a step further, noting that three of the school board seats ran unopposed in November.
“Instead of shouting out on Next Door Neighbors, or whatever your social media is of choice, what I would encourage you to do is get involved,” Vance said. “If you think that you’re smarter, or you think that you have better ideas, or you think that you can do better for the community, then put your name on the ballot, join a committee, become involved and participate in the actual process.”
If approved, McCann said, the new bond would put total school tax rates in Ridgefield at around $3.69 per thousand of assessed property value. That would put them around the middle of the pack for school districts in Clark County, where Camas leads with a tax rate at $5.56, and Battle Ground sits at $3.08 for 2020.