The new plan will space out bonds over several years
RIDGEFIELD — Ridgefield School District, it appears, is changing course in its effort to build new schools, following the narrow failure of its $107 million bond in the Feb. 11 special election.
“I think it was, if 65 votes had flip-flopped we’d have a different outcome,” says Ridgefield School District Superintendent Nathan McCann. “Out of 7,500-plus votes.”
This is the second consecutive time Ridgefield voters have failed to cross the 60-percent majority threshold needed to pass a building bond, though this one finished slightly closer than the $70 million bond in 2019.
“What I saw was an incredibly active and engaged parent and school-supporter community,” McCann says. “Election turnout was phenomenal, and school supporters are very strongly in support of their school.”
In response, McCann sent out a notification on Thursday that the school board intended to introduce a smaller bond request for the April 28 special election ballot.
“This bond program will be noticeably smaller, with a voter request of $40,465,000,” wrote McCann. “Let me be clear, the overall plan has not changed. Rather, we will look to implement the plan in stages.”
During an interview with Clark County Today on Wednesday, McCann said he was unsure which direction the board might take in their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 25. Members of the board met with McCann on Wednesday evening and decided to pursue a staged approach for the bonds.
McCann says if voters approve the smaller bond in April, it would go towards construction of a new K-4 elementary school building, which would open initially to serve K-6 student populations.
“This will significantly reduce the overcrowding at our current elementary sites, as well as relive some enrollment stress experienced at Sunset Ridge,” wrote McCann. “Also, new accessible and inclusive playgrounds will be constructed at South Ridge and Union Ridge Elementary Schools.”
The district still intends to use school impact fees from new construction to purchase property for a new 5th-6th and 7th-8th grade intermediate school campus.
Any ballot proposition must be submitted to the Clark County Auditor at least 60 days prior to any election, so the board needed to act quickly if it wanted to move ahead. If approved, McCann says, the district would still be able to open the new elementary school in time for the start of the 2021 school year.
The inability to get the two most recent bond measures approved becomes a bit clearer when you dig down into the results at a precinct level.
While precincts in the heart of Ridgefield city limits, where houses are springing up like molehills in a freshly mown lawn, approval rates were in the high 60-percent range, with several precincts topping 70 percent.
“Any of the areas in town where there are students and subdivisions, and so forth, performed very well at the ballot box,” says McCann.
But travel farther away from the housing developments and traffic, and support erodes quickly.
In Precinct 480, which sits largely south of NW 199th Street, over 56 percent of voters rejected the bond. The number was even higher east of I-5 in the area north of NE 179th Street.
Those more rural areas, says McCann, where suburban crowding isn’t yet a reality, historically skew against bonds and levies.
“You may not feel quite as connected to Ridgefield as a community, even though you’re living in the Ridgefield School District boundaries,” McCann says. “That’s not a new challenge. That’s not historically been the area that has performed as well, so we’re not shocked by that.”
That may change in the near future. The county recently moved to lift an urban holding designation for the area north of 179th Street, clearing the way for over 5,000 new homes to be built in the next decade or so. Many of those homes will be inside the Ridgefield School District boundary.
The Ridgefield School Board meeting will be held at 5 p.m. on Tuesday Feb. 25 in the Columbia Assembly Room at the Ridgefield Administrative and Civic Center, 510 Pioneer Street.