With continued growth on the horizon, the Ridgefield School District in February will ask voters to consider a $107 million construction bond to build new facilities.
The north Clark County school district last ran a bond a year ago at $77 million, which failed with 58.1 percent of the vote. School bonds in Washington state must pass with a margin of 60 percent plus one vote approval.
This year’s bond measure is $30 million larger than last year’s due in part to the addition of an intermediate school for fifth- and sixth-graders to its slate of projects. That campus would be the first part of a two-phase construction project that would eventually include a middle school for seventh- and eighth-grade students. The second part of that project would be funded through a later bond, Superintendent Nathan McCann said.
The district estimates the bond will cost taxpayers a rate of 97 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value. A home valued at $300,000, for example, would pay $291 annually.
District officials say this bond is critical as they work to accommodate the additional 1,760 students expected to enter the district by 2023-2024. Enrollment at the district was 3,358 students in January, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, meaning the district anticipates an enrollment increase of 52 percent.
“We desperately need this,” McCann said.
McCann adds that current growth projections do not take into account projected growth from development around the 179 Street/Interstate 5 interchange. The Clark County Council late last year voted to lift an urban holding designation, which for years halted development and land division in the sprawling area.
Building out all 2,200 acres that were in urban holding could produce as many as 5,650 homes, many of them in the Ridgefield School District boundaries.
“The bottom line is, we’re in this perpetual mode of growth,” he said.
Slate of projects
In addition to the new intermediate school, the bond will pay for a new elementary school for kindergartners through fourth-graders in the Claireborne Acres section of the city, south of Northeast 279th Street and east of North 65th Avenue.
It would also expand Ridgefield High School, adding new classes and building a new vocational building. Part of that campus’s aging facility, which currently contains vocational classrooms, would be repurposed as district storage and warehouse space.
The bond would also pay for inclusive playgrounds at South Ridge and Union Ridge elementary schools.
The Ridgefield School District is also eligible for $17.3 million in matching funds, plus $5.7 million in revenue from developer impact fees, bringing the total construction budget to $130 million.
McCann described a series of “more and more draconian measures” that the district would be forced to consider if the bond fails. Among them is the purchase of 34 new portable classrooms. But McCann said the cost of purchasing and preparing land to fit all those portables is so much that the district would have to ask voters for more money, anyway.
“The cruel irony is that would require us to bond,” he said.
The district could also consider converting existing extracurricular spaces, like theater spaces or libraries, into classrooms.
Perhaps most extreme, however, is a proposal to consider alternate day schedules, running a morning shift and an evening shift for classes. With that would come negotiations with teachers over who works which shift, and tough conversations with families over which shift students end up attending.
“One way or the other, you’re voting for something in this bond,” McCann said.
Ballots for the Feb. 11 election have been mailed. Ballots must be postmarked by that day, or returned to a ballot drop-off site before 8 p.m.