A small unused kitchen prep area now serves as a shared space for group learning with multiple programs, paraprofessionals, and the PTA

Ridgefield’s South Ridge Elementary School was originally built in 1960, making it older than most of the schools’ parents–and even some of their grandparents. A previous bond funded the construction of a second building on the campus in 2014, but the huge influx of new families to Ridgefield has already stretched it well beyond its intended capacity. As the number of elementary school students in Ridgefield continues to rapidly grow, the two buildings at South Ridge are short on classroom space and storage, impacting every student and staff member on campus.

The entire third grade class is now housed in portable classrooms outside of the main school buildings. Currently, there are 570 South Ridge Road Runners, but the entire campus was designed to hold a maximum of 542 students. Even with eight portable classrooms already in place at South Ridge, the district will need to purchase additional portables to accommodate any increase in the number of students. And with Ridgefield topping the charts as the fastest growing city in the entire state of Washington for multiple years since 2013–ranking second in 2021–the influx of new students shows no signs of slowing. 

Behind a fleet of portable classrooms, two storage containers provide additional storage for the school, since many former storage spaces have been pressed into other use

As Principal Jill Neyenhouse walks across the blacktop to the fleet of portable classrooms, she pauses and remarks, “I call it Portableville. Obviously, we’d prefer to have all the students together in one building.”

The eight portable classroom buildings are all full and in use daily. In addition, there are two large shipping containers behind the portables being used for storage, which are also completely full. The original plan called for the storage containers to be in the parking lot, but Neyenhouse explained that there was no room even in the parking lot, as it already accommodates a busy double lane of cars for pickup and dropoff. 

With all of the classrooms filled, there is virtually no space within the building for the additional programs that serve students. The can-do spirit of the South Ridge teachers and staff has meant making do with whatever space is available. A small unused kitchen in the old building serves as shared space for numerous programs: groups with Special Education and the Title Learning Assistance Program (LAP), paraprofessionals, and the Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Beside the small meeting space is makeshift storage for all of the recess equipment and office supplies. A single desk tucked in beside the old lunch counter serves as a shared office for numerous staff. 

The “Harry Potter Room” is a space for small group learning—tucked in between stacks of boxes and filing cabinets like Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs

Further down the hall is the professional resources library. “We call this the Harry Potter room,” Neyenhouse says as she opens the door. The room is stacked with filing cabinets, open shelves, storage bins, and cardboard boxes—and in the middle of it all, wedged in like Harry Potter’s cupboard bedroom under the stairs, is a table and a single chair for small group learning. 

While the school’s newer building did provide a much-needed cafeteria/common space, it only added six classrooms to the school’s total. And even the newer cafeteria isn’t big enough to handle so many students. To allow for student spacing with COVID restrictions, the school has implemented three separate lunch shifts and added an outdoor tent for extra capacity. 

The newer building also houses a science lab, although it has been repurposed as much-needed general classroom space. To make copies of tests and worksheets, teachers must go into the science lab’s packed storage closet where the copy machine is located. Even the common area between the classrooms in the new building has been called into use for instruction. All day long, small groups of students meet for focused learning at tables packed into what used to be an airy and open space.

The cafeteria in the newer building still isn’t large enough to accommodate so many students with COVID seating restrictions, so there is additional lunchtime seating under a tent in the recess area

In addition, the older building is too outdated to accommodate the same modern systems as the newer building. The electrical system was upgraded thirty years ago, but it cannot be equipped with the same type of fire alert system as the newer building. 

“If I want to hold a fire drill, I have to have two people, one at each building, ready to activate the two different systems at the same time,” said Neyenhouse, shaking her head.

Neyenhouse knows the teachers and staff at South Ridge are doing the best they can with what they have. “There’s no way anyone could have predicted the explosive growth we’ve had in Ridgefield,” she said. “We’ve been creative, and everyone has worked really hard to find solutions. But we’re beyond capacity now. I don’t know what will happen next year or the year after that if this bond doesn’t pass.”  

If approved by voters, the $62.565 million bond would fund the construction of a new 75,000 square foot K-4 elementary school that would open as a K-6 school to help alleviate overcrowding at the district’s existing elementary and intermediate schools. The bond would also fund an 18,000 square foot expansion at Ridgefield High School, featuring a new metal shop and classroom, eight general education classrooms, and space designated for future college, career and technical education (CCTE) classrooms. For more information about the Feb. 8, 2022 bond, please visit https://www.ridgefieldsd.org/.