News Article
School Board Approves November 5 Referendum for New High School

On Monday, August 12, 2019 the Owatonna Public School Board unanimously approved moving forward with a November 5, 2019 referendum for a new high school.  The ballot will include two questions: one to fund a new high school and one to fund improvements to the existing high school for district and/or community use. Question One for a new high school would fund a smaller high school at a lower cost than the one that was narrowly defeated in May 2019.

The final referendum decision was based on extensive feedback collected and careful consideration of the facility needs of the Owatonna Public Schools.  The planning and input process began in 2014-2015 with the work completed by the original Community Task Force on Facilities. That process led to a successful November 2015 bond referendum for deferred maintenance, safety and security, and elementary and middle school space needs. In 2018, the Owatonna School Board reconvened a Facilities Task Force to address the high school needs that were not part of the November 2015 referendum.  Issues identified in the nearly 100-year-old high school building included on-going and increasing maintenance needs, safety and security concerns, site size limitations and outdated learning spaces. In May 2019, the proposed $116M new high school referendum failed by 120 votes; 49.5% yes to 50.5% no.  

Since May 2019, the Owatonna School District staff and leadership have been listening to the community and gathering additional feedback.  Community input was collected through multiple community listening sessions, a random sample scientific community phone survey and other feedback from community members.

As the district listened, themes began to emerge as to the reasons for the referendum loss.  These themes included:

  1. The cost of the new high school was too high. 

  2. The tax impact was too high for the residents of Owatonna.

  3. A desire to have a plan to re-use the current Owatonna High School.

  4. A desire to revisit and compare the costs of a new high school vs. a remodel of the current Owatonna High School.

  5. Interest in seeing building concepts and location for a new high school.

Extensive work went into addressing the needs identified by the Facilities Task Force while also listening to the community to reduce the cost and tax impact, retain corporate donors, reduce the cost of the new high school and review and offer options to reuse the current Owatonna High School.

Based on the feedback collected and careful consideration of the facility needs of the district, a two-question ballot was recommended and approved by the Owatonna School Board.  

Q1: A new high school campus to be constructed for $104M

  • 1,600 student capacity - vs. 1,700 for May 2019 request

  • Land cost covered by donations, as well as $22 million in original corporate donations still offered

  • 25-year bond, $16.16/month estimated tax impact on the average homeowner ($175,000 value home) - vs. $23 per month for May 2019 request

Q2: Repurpose the current high school site for future district and/or community use, $8M

  • Contingent on the passage of Q1

  • Intend to use for consolidation of some district offices into one location

  • Additional uses determined in collaboration with community

  • 25-year bond, $1.42/month estimated tax impact on the average homeowner 

If both questions pass, the average homeowner would see a $17.58/month total tax impact.

The district will now begin preparing information materials, including a comprehensive website, to help the community make an informed vote.

   
Author: Shay Baumbach   E-Mail: sbaumbach@isd761.org