Ridgefield school leaders make case for $62.6 million bond

Ballot measure would fund construction of elementary school, expansion at high school

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The Ridgefield School District has undertaken its fourth attempt to pass a construction bond which would build a new elementary school, as well as expand and improve the district’s high school.

If approved by voters on Feb. 8, the $62.6 million bond would fund the construction of a 75,000-square-foot elementary school that would house kindergarten through fourth grades and an 18,000-square-foot expansion at Ridgefield High School.

The elementary school would initially open with kindergarten through sixth grade classes to address district overcrowding in its existing buildings. The high school expansion would include a new metal shop and classroom, eight general education classrooms and space for future college, career and technical education classrooms.

The bond needs a supermajority of more than 60% in favor in order to pass. Following the passage of a $78 million bond in 2017 that constructed the district’s intermediate grades campus, the district has tried three times unsuccessfully to pass another measure. Voters in support of the measures made up between 50.5% to 59.2% of ballots cast in the prior elections.

If approved, the district estimates the bond will increase property taxes by 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Overall, property owners would pay an estimated $3.44 per $1,000 of assessed value in school taxes if voters approve the bond.

During its Nov. 9 meeting, the Ridgefield School Board approved a resolution to place a bond on the February ballot. A month later, the board approved a repeal and replacement of the initial ballot measure after the district discovered applicable state funding, which dropped the total of the bond by $4.2 million. The state funding would put the bond’s increase on taxes at 7 cents per $1,000 lower than the ballot measure approved in November.

During a live question and answer session on Jan. 11, Board President Joe Vance and district superintendent Nathan McCann spoke on the rationale and impacts the bond would have for the district. As has been the case in previous bond measures, both successful or failed measures, the need for new and improved campuses was pinpointed to the district’s growth.

When McCann was hired at the school district in 2014 its population was about 2,100 students, he said. The district’s October count this school year was at about 3,750.

The growth the district observed is indicative of development in the community at large, he said.

“You see it every place in Ridgefield, too. We have new roundabouts and we have new subdivisions, a new grocery store and other things that have come,” McCann said.

Alongside the building itself, McCann said the elementary school campus would open with a permanent, modular eight-plex building which he said is cheaper than the portables the district currently relies on.

If the bond is approved, the new elementary school would be built at 7025 N. 10th St. on property the district purchased in 2018 for $2.2 million using impact fees the district collects from new development in its boundaries.

If the bond is approved, the district is on track to have the elementary school open by fall of 2023, McCann said. He said the district has done “a tremendous amount” of site preparation over the past fall to get it ready for construction as soon as the funds are approved.

“People talk about things that are shovel-ready. This project literally is ready for building to start,” McCann said.

McCann said the bond proposal takes a “bite-sized” approach, “so that the community that’s here right now is not having to absorb all by themselves the cost of growth in Ridgefield.”

The district had two successful bonds in the last decade, one in 2012 and one in 2017. Vance said the frequency of the measures was intentional.

“When you have the type of growth (Ridgefield has) you’re always anticipating that it would be a multi-step process,” Vance said. “The idea is that we would spend only the amount we would need to spend, and then as we continue to have growth we would continue to add more so that the cost … is kind of paid for and built as the growth comes along, rather than pay for and build something that’s not really needed right now.”

Vance likened the overcrowding in schools to impacts seen in transportation, which the city has been addressing as the community grows.

“If you’re stuck on a road that’s not adequate for the size of the traffic … you have a traffic jam. People get mad,” Vance said. “That’s what we’re already starting to see in our schools. It’s overcrowding.”

In the city limits of Ridgefield alone, the population has increased by more than 116% between the 2010 and 2020 censuses. The district at large now has about 21,400 residents.

“You can’t just have the kind of growth that Ridgefield has experienced without adding classrooms,” Vance said.

To handle the growth, the district has relied on portable buildings for classroom space. Vance explained that among other issues, the district didn’t have the land to rely solely on those facilities to handle growth.

“If this was just that we needed a couple of portables at each of the schools, yeah, that might be an option,” Vance said. “Portables alone will not accommodate all of the growth that is here and all of the growth that is coming.”

When moving to Ridgefield almost 25 years ago, Vance said Ridgefield stood out because of the “excellent reputation” of the district. All seven of his children have attended the district. His youngest is a freshman at Ridgefield High School.

“Ridgefield has just been an absolutely amazing place to raise a family,” Vance said.

Apart from more concrete consequences of a failed bond, Vance said it could also impact the community’s reputation. He said a district unable to keep up with growth could lead families to look at alternatives, causing a drain effect that affects the district as a whole.

“If you’re a community that can’t pass a bond, that’s not the type of community that the Vances were looking for 25 years ago when we came here, and so many others were looking for when they decided that this is the place they would come,” Vance said.

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