The Ridgefield School District is gearing up for a $77 million bond measure that will see a new K-4 elementary school built on the east side of the city should voters show their approval.
For the Feb. 12 special election the district is asking for a capital facilities bond that, alongside a new school, would also see expansion at Ridgefield High School and improvements districtwide. The ballot measure comes just two years after the last bond the district has put forth which passed with close to 69 percent approval in February 2017.
The money from the bond will be accompanied by at least $15 million in state assistance. RSD Superintendent Nathan McCann said there was a likely potential for more as the district goes through the process of applying for funding.
What’s in the bond
Chief among the components of the bond is funding to build a new elementary school on land the district recently purchased next to Claiborne Acres off of Northwest 279th Street, east of Clark County Fire & Rescue’s Northwest 65th Avenue station. Other work includes renovation and modernization of the district’s vocational education building at the high school, a facility that has seen little work on in its nearly 50-year lifespan, McCann said.
The high school would also receive a new classroom wing, and elementary schools in the district would receive HVAC system improvements and covered play areas. All schools in the district would also receive safety and security improvements.
As was the case with the 2017 bond, engineering and design for the new building was conducted before the vote. McCann said just more than $1 million had been spent for the K-4 building plan. The front-funding would mean construction could begin in May with the building open for the 2020-2021 school year should the bond pass by the requisite 60 percent approval.
Why the bond
Much like the 2017 bond, RSD’s rapid growth is the reason behind going to voters for improvements. The district is anticipating 45 percent growth in the next four years. As of the January population count, RSD had roughly 3,200 students, McCann said.
Currently the district has managed growth by using portable classrooms, though that solution is far from ideal. McCann said each portable costs the district $350,000. With the amount of those facilities currently in the district now they are running into an issue of space.
“Every time we have to purchase a portable, bring it in and furnish it, those dollars are dollars that could have been used for brick-and-mortar construction,” McCann said.
“They’re not a long-term good investment,” RSD Board President Scott Gullickson said, adding that each portable was about 1,800 square feet.
9 cents more
Compared to property taxes paid in 2018, the district and bond proponents are saying that a passed bond would result in only 9 cents more per $1,000 of assessed value paid in 2020, or $36 more annually on a $400,000 home. Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick recently provided his own estimate.
This relatively modest increase was the result of changes at the state level in funding regarding local school levies that taxpayers will see this year. For those in RSD’s boundaries, the district’s maintenance and operations levy will be capped at $1.50 per $1,000, resulting in a 74-cent per $1,000 drop. McCann said certified levy rates weren’t received as of January which could lead to further fluctuations in the final rate.
Though the district does receive funding in the form of impact fees from developers inside the district, McCann explained that there are restrictions on what impact fees from new construction could be used for. He offered a perspective on their use, explaining that while new residents moving into new construction would result in funding from fees, those moving into existing housing wouldn’t. Relying on impact fees to fund growth wasn’t equitable to all residents in the district, he said.
The upcoming bond is the third of at least four phases for expansion that began in 2012. McCann said a future fourth phase would involve another addition at the high school and additional capacity at intermediate and middle-school levels, possibly a similar complex to the recently-completed 5-8 grade campus. A full buildout at the district would have four elementaries leading to the two middle-grades campuses which would feed into the high school.
When that fourth phase would happen wasn’t set in stone with the third phase currently up for a vote.
“When the need is there, that’s when the next bond will be,” McCann said, noting a slowdown in growth could put a fourth phase further down the line.
For voters experiencing fatigue after passing a similar bond just two years ago, both Gullickson and McCann noted that the alternative, relying on portables for the inevitable increase of student population, would be less cost-effective.
“Not passing the bond does not stymie growth,” McCann said. He added that the district has been one of the biggest factors in protecting home values.
As with any ballot initiative, there is misinformation swirling about what the bond was focused on. McCann said that if the vote was strictly on the merits of facts the district and bond supporters wouldn’t have to spend so much time informing and campaigning.
“I’m confident that at the end of the day folks will realize that schools are a number-one asset in Ridgefield and are worth the continual investment,” McCann said.
With about a month until the voting deadline “there’s no coasting to the finish,” Gullickson said. According to McCann, around 115 were in attendance for a bond rally at Sportsman’s Steakhouse Jan. 9.
“It was a packed room,” he said. “Not a lot of communities our size can pull off that kind of enthusiasm.”