Ridgefield Students Shape Design of Community's Open Space
Carolyn Enos
Thursday, February 08 2018

Imagine a meeting of professional architects and landscape designers planning the design of open space for the Ridgefield community.  There’s nothing out of the ordinary about that--until you take a closer look and realize that students are creating the designs, and the professionals are paying close attention.

Ridgefield School District’s 2017 Bond Project is in full swing with four construction projects in the works:  the 5-8 schools complex, Ridgefield High School expansion, security upgrades at two elementary schools and the repurposing of View Ridge Middle School.

Recognizing that the repurposing project at View Ridge does not include bond funding to landscape the open spaces around the school, Superintendent Nathan McCann turned to the 12 students in his Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council (SSAC) for ideas.  The council, which meets monthly with McCann, is comprised of students from Grades 4-12 representing each of the district’s four schools.

With the professional support of architects and landscape designers, McCann met with his SSAC students in January and presented them with a unique challenge:  To design and construct a park in downtown Ridgefield utilizing the open spaces around View Ridge Middle School, relying primarily on the volunteer efforts of professionals and the Ridgefield community.

The open space in need of landscaping includes the nearby baseball field, the school’s open space fronting Pioneer Street, and the hillside on 5th Street.

Not only were the students eager to tackle the project, they came up with some impressive ideas for the design team, including a community garden, a playground for early learners, and an amphitheater, to name a few.  The kids were excited for the chance to provide ideas that would not only benefit their community but leave a lasting personal and positive legacy in Ridgefield.

“We’re very excited and appreciative of the work that they’re doing, and this is happening with students as young as fourth grade,” said McCann.  “Watching them in their groups looking at some layouts and doing some greenlight thinking, it’s pretty inspiring  to see what they create when you give them just a little bit of guidance from professionals.”

LSW Architect, Trevor Chayce, was impressed with the thoughtfulness that the students integrated into their ideas.  “They’re thinking about the big picture, about everybody that’s using the space, not only kids coming to play but even the users of the new renovated building, including the early learning components and everything about the site,” he said.  “Everything that they’re generating here today will be utilized in the final design.  We’ll be able to work with this team and refine a lot of the ideas to be reflected on the site in the future.” 

Payton Grimm, a sixth grader at Union Ridge Elementary, shared her group’s design plans for the open space.  “We’re trying to incorporate the community into the extra land around the school, bringing in a community garden, benches and play structures for everyone to use,” she said.  “I feel like it’s a wonderful opportunity to make my mark on the community because I feel like it’ll be here forever.”

Jacob Bell, a sixth grader from South Ridge Elementary, was equally excited.  “I think it’s really awesome that I actually got to be here, and I think this is going to be a really cool project to be a part of.”

“It’s really great for these younger kids to be a part of what’s coming for the future of the community,” said Jolie Gullickson, a junior at Ridgefield High School.   “The best part is being able to work with them and knowing what their input is on what’s yet to come and just making sure that we keep Ridgefield the way it always is because it’s growing so much.”

In the coming year, the students will continue to collaborate with landscape designers and architects to refine their ideas, and as their plans move forward toward implementation, get community organizations on board and increase volunteer support.  Estimated completion of the landscaping project is January 2019.