Past, Present, and Future of OHS


Graphic by Hunter Martin

OHS in 1921 (Left) and in 2019 (Right)

Asiya Gazali and Logan McGaheran

On Tuesday, May 14, 2019, the city of Owatonna voted no to the bond referendum regarding the building of a new high school by a margin of 50.5% no to 49.5% yes. The former bond cost $116 million that would be paid over a span of 20 years and had a capacity of 1,700 students. The main concern the community expressed for the proposed school was the cost, specifically regarding the tax impact. Many also conveyed a concern for the lack of information put out on the differences between building a new school and renovating the current one. Keeping those concerns in mind, the school board proposed a new bond referendum a second time in six months to approach the needs of the community differently. 

The district added a second question so the taxpayers can decide the future of the current building if the new bond passes. The first of two questions on the ballot regards building a new high school. A second question has been added to the ballot about whether or not the current high school will be repurposed for district use. This question is contingent on the first question. If the bond does not pass, then the second question does not need to be taken into consideration. If both questions pass, then $8 million will be added to repurpose the current high school.

1951 Totem
Now and Then: 1951 girl’s ushers club

What has changed?

The upcoming bond referendum has made changes from the May 14 referendum. The total cost paid over a number of years has changed from $116 million over 20 years to $104 million over 25 years. Since the cost and the length of the bond have been changed, the monthly tax rate for an average home (valued at $175,000), decreased from $23/month to approximately $16/per month. The new school proposal will have a student capacity of 1,600; down from the original 1,700 student capacity proposal in the May 14 referendum. Other features have also been removed or reduced from the previous building plan including gym size and over 4,000 square footage.  

Ag2School Tax Credit

Following the previous bond vote, a new tax credit passed, the Ag2School tax credit. This credit reduces the taxes of agricultural landowners by having state funding for the new school’s tax increase. This is good for both the agricultural landowners and school districts in rural areas. The taxes of the landowners decrease while the new school the community needs are still possible. The credit gradually decreases the amount of money the landowners have to pay: 50 percent in 2020, 45 percent in 2021, 40 percent in 2022, etc. All of the money that will be paid by state funding is directly deducted from the property taxes of the landowners.

Emily Maine
Now and Then: Mr. Eitrheim’s third hour theater class recreates the 1951 girl’s usher club on the same staircase

Preparing for pathways

The key factor implicated in the proposed school is the focus on career pathways education. The high school currently offers few career-focused classes to students, including fields in law and medicine which are fairly popular among the student body, because of current space and lack of technology-based classrooms. With the modern educational facilities that are planned to be the focal point of the new school, more opportunities pertaining to students’ interests beyond high school will be encouraged and promoted. Owatonna Superintendent Mr. Jeff Elstad said, “It’s about individual student passions and needs that should drive the curriculum. That’s the beautiful thing about the flexibility and having a facility that supports that with access to technology.” With a more hands-on approach to a career-focused curriculum with the supporting facilities, students will have access to experience in their desired fields that will better prepare them for their individual futures.

1953 Totem
Students study in the library which is now Mr. Kuehn’s art room

Donations from the community 

Local businesses have pledged over 25 million dollars in donations toward the cost of the school in the second referendum. Each business has contributed a portion of the money to support a specific area of the building. Federated Insurance has planned to support the land costs and given 20 million dollars to the project.  Viracon has offered an in-kind glass donation. Mayo Clinic has projected to donate beds and mannequins to contribute to making medical training classrooms with hopes of onsite CNA training. Wenger has earmarked donations towards the music, theatre, performing arts and athletics spaces. Donations would be returned to the businesses who contributed them and not placed into renovating OHS as it is.


Sol Havelka
Once a library is now Mr. Kuehn’s art room

Location announced

On Oct. 9 the location for the new high school was publicly announced. It will be built in what is now a field, east of Cornerstone Church on 18th Street. The land donated by Federated Insurance is approximately 88 acres. Many members of the community have expressed concerns that this area will be prone to potential flooding, resulting in possible building damage, because the area had flooded around 15 years ago. However, the city placed a system in place to help mitigate water damage. Engineers have evaluated the area for the potential construction of the new building and have taken into consideration the stormwater retention action needed.


In the hands of the voters

If the bond were to pass, the construction for the new high school would begin extensively planning.  A community design team would be set in place and given approximately a year to design the new high school. If the community decides to also repurpose the current high school, then consideration will go into the possible uses the building could use it as within district. The overall planning time estimates to one year, following approximately two years of construction. The school will be planned to open for the 2023-2024 school year.

On the other side of the spectrum, if the bond were to not pass for the second time, then school officials will evaluate the future of the current high school. The following bond proposal would not be taking place anytime in the near future. Mr. Elstad said, “If the community responds to say no, twice in one year, the school district really has to pause and kind of reconsider what we’re thinking.” The school board will continue to offer the best opportunities, specifically focusing on the career pathways, to the high school no matter the end result of the bond; however, without updated technology and facilities, the potential progress will be limited. 

Students of OHS

The students of Owatonna will be affected the most by either outcome of the referendum. Many students have expressed their opinion on which side they would sway towards regarding the building of a new high school building. The most voiced explanation for voting in favor of the high school is that currently the Owatonna High School is lagging behind updated, modern facilities compared to other schools in Minnesota. It is seen as outdated and too historic.

A lot of other schools are already progressing and it’s what’s best for our community.

— Fardowsa Abbas

An additional point made was that there are not enough career-oriented classes that focus on the students’ futures outside of high school. Fardowsa Abbas, a senior at the OHS that contributed to many bond referendum meetings said, “A lot of other schools are already progressing and it’s what’s best for our community.” The factor of space in the school for students also was expressed. Sophomore Logan Waldhauser said, “This school is hard to go through. There’s not enough space.” There are also students that are against the idea of a new school.

The common reasoning behind the voting against a new high school is the belief that the current school is okay the way it is and there is no reason to waste taxpayers’ money. Freshman Nevaeh Stano said, “There’s no need for a new school. It’s been here for a while and I think it should stay.” Students stand on different ends of the spectrum regarding the bond referendum at OHS, many of which are seniors who will be able to express their beliefs by voting.  

Voting for the new bond referendum is on Tuesday, Nov. 5 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at your local voting center. More information about the bond and a tax calculator can be found on