Frequently Asked Questions

How does the budgeted price of the new high school compare to other recent new high schools?

Our consultants researched other high schools that were built recently and analyzed those costs to develop a budget for our project. The costs are compared against construction inflation factors to adjust for bidding in 2020, when the high school would be built. The attached table was developed for other recent new high school projects in Minnesota.

Cost Comparison- New High Schools In Minnesota

High School Building

Year Project Bid

Student Capacity

Total Square Feet (SF)

SF per Student

Project Cost for Inflation*

Cost Per Student

Cost per SF









St. Cloud Tech








St. Peter

2015 750 185,000 247 $65,486,000 $87,315 $354
Alexandria 2012 1,400 283,000 202 $94,877,000 $67,769 $335
East Ridge 2007 1,700 375,000 221 $145,465,000 $85,568 $388
Lakeville South 2003 1,800 372,000 207 $115,166,000 $63,981 $310


  • Project has not bid- 2020 bidding assumed
  • Core capacity for 1,000 students
  • *Inflation factors are based on Engineering News Record (ENR News) reported Building Construction Index (BCI) values

What will happen to the current high school if the referendum passes?
If the bond referendum is successful, the district will look to find a buyer for our current high school site.  If a buyer is found we would use the sale proceeds towards the bond for the new high school. If a buyer is not found there is a budget of $3 million within the high school bond referendum to demolish the old high school. The community task force made a recommendation to budget for demolition in the event that the high school is not sold so that the district and its taxpayers are not spending additional dollars on utilities and maintenance at a building that is not utilized.

When will construction begin if the bond referendum passes, and when would work be completed?
If the bond referendum passes, it will take about one year to design the building, seeking input from a wide variety of stakeholders and working with various jurisdictions on requirements. The project would be constructed from Summer 2020 to Summer 2022, and the building would be complete for use by student and staff Fall 2022.

The district has said that the learning spaces of the high school are "inadequate" and "outdated". The spaces have worked and worked well in the past. Why can't they work in the present and future?

Owatonna High School is full of talented teachers and motivated students who do everything they can to make the existing learning spaces work. However, educational practices and student learning styles have changed since the high school was built 100 years ago. A diploma is no longer the endgame for graduates. 21st-century learning is reshaping what high school looks like by incorporating integrated academic and career technical education, business partnerships, mentoring and internships. Owatonna Public Schools is among the many other school districts nationwide that are recognizing the need to implement a 21st century learning model called career pathways. The career pathways model looks at students strengths and potential career interests and creates engaged and relevant learning experiences for the student. For the past seven years, the Owatonna High School administrators have been researching career pathways, including various program styles and what types of facilities would be needed to fully roll out the program. As stated by Owatonna High School Principal, Mark Randall, "We can implement some of the career pathways program within the current building, but to fully implement would not be possible in our current high school." 
An example of what a high school graduate would be leaving Owatonna High School with if the career pathways program could be fully implemented would be a diploma... plus a welding certificate and/or Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certificate. These are just two of the many certificates that providing relevant learning experiences to our students could achieve. 
The career pathways model is reshaping what high school looks like for students and providing them with more opportunities upon crossing the stage on graduation. The high school learning environments that many of us had did work for us, but learning has changed and best practices have been improved to ensure all students are college, career and life ready.

Why doesn’t the school district use this money to improve instruction — hiring more teachers, reducing class size, etc. — rather than to build a new building? Wouldn’t that be a better use of the money?

Both buildings and instruction are important and part of what school districts provide to their students and families. However, school district funds are restricted to certain uses. Building bonds can only be used for construction and renovations. These funds cannot be used for school operations. The May 14, 2019 request is a building bond request. Additionally,  improving instruction has been researched for the past seven years by high school administration and teaching staff and they are asking to move forward with career pathways. To fully implement career pathways, the learning environment, or building, needs to be updated and improved.
 levies support day-to-day school and district expenses, including educational curriculum, teacher and staff salaries, utilities, and transportation. Operating levies are a separate funding source from building bonds and can only be increased by voters on a November ballot. The levy is essential for us to continue to offer the level of education we currently have. The current levy expires in 2021, and will need to be renewed before then.
It takes both an environment that is safe, healthy and accessible for all, along with the day-to-day school and district expenses including educational curriculum and qualified teaching staff to continue to provide equitable access to high quality, innovative learning opportunities ensuring all students are college, career and life ready.

Why do I keep hearing different numbers for the cost of the new high school?  From $116 million to $243 million when you figure in current bonds and interest, interest on new bond debt, etc. What is the actual cost to taxpayers?

While the project will cost $138 million, financial assistance and donations from local businesses have brought the project cost down to $116 million. These donations reduce the tax impact on all Owatonna property owners. The average homeowner ($175,000 value home) will pay $5,460 in property taxes over the 20 year life of the bonds ($273 per year x 20 years), assuming a constant home value.
Bonds are much like a home mortgage, and the district will pay interest on the bonds. Just as when you buy a home with a mortgage, you don't quote others the total cost of your payments over the life of the mortgage when you tell them how much the house cost, you tell them the purchase price. The purchase price for the new high school proposal is $116 million. 
Also like home mortgages, the district can make additional payments, refinance or pay the bonds off early, which could result in savings to taxpayers and lower the total cost of the bond over time. Finally, the bond interest rates being used are conservative estimates, meaning that rates could be lower when the bonds are actually sold, reducing the total cost to taxpayers.

Does the cost of the building bond include everything including landscaping, furniture, etc.? 
Yes, the total cost has already figured in all other costs including landscaping, furniture, etc.  

What is the tax impact if the referendum is approved?

The tax impact on the average Owatonna homeowner ($175,000 value home) would be $23/month. An online tax calculator listing other values can be found here.  If approved, taxes would increase beginning in 2020.

What is the Ag2School Tax Credit?

Due to new legislation passed in June 2017, taxes are automatically decreased by 40% for agricultural landowners for all current and future bond referendums.

What is the length of the bond?

If voters approve the request, the bond would be paid off over 20 years.

What is the difference between a bond referendum and an operating levy?

Bonds are for Building
Building bonds can only be used for construction and renovations. These funds cannot be used for school operations. The May 14, 2019 request is a building bond request.

Levies are for Learning
Operating levies support day-to-day school and district expenses, including educational curriculum, teacher and staff salaries, utilities, and transportation. Operating levies are a separate funding source from building bonds and can only be increased by voters on a November ballot. The levy is essential for us to continue to offer the level of education we currently have. The levy expires in 2021, and will need to be renewed before then.

Does the school district have property in mind for the new school? Where would it be? How much would the district pay per acre? How many acres will it need?

The school district has been partnering with the City of Owatonna and Steele County to help locate appropriate available properties in Owatonna, should voters approve the referendum. There are many factors that go into looking at property including:

  • Topography studies (land and soil testing) 
  • Accessibility to road systems that can support increased road traffic
  • Access to city utilities 
In discussions with the City of Owatonna and Steele County, we have learned that most of the development is happening on the north end of Owatonna. The Owatonna School District is continuing to work through the process, but a site location will not be determined until we know the outcome of the bond referendum. 
The Owatonna School District is looking for 77-100 acres of land if the bond referendum is successful. The Community Task Force on Facilities included $2M for land purchases into the cost of the high school proposal.

Will voters see a design of the new high school prior to the vote?

To obtain a full design concept of the new high school is an expense the school district will not embark upon until after the vote on May 14.  If the referendum passes on May 14, the school district will ask the community to be apart of the design of the new space and a full design concept will be implemented after hearing ideas from students, staff and the general community. 

From the research completed by the Community Task Force on Facilities, the design plan would include: 
  • Adaptable classrooms, labs and specialist spaces arranged to support interdisciplinary work toward our future-ready efforts in career and college preparation. 
  • Flexible learning areas to support individual, small group and large group work and activities. 
  • Secure main entrance adjacent to the main office.
  • Adequate commons area to support lunch seating for students and hosting community events.
  • Auditorium to seat 900 with stage and support spaces for music and theater.
  • Gymnasium space to support physical education class needs during the day as well as after-school activities. 
  • Media center with access to collaborative spaces, print and digital resources.
  • Adequate on-site parking for students, staff and visitors.
  • Bust and parent drop-off and pick-up areas to improve safety.
  • ADA and Title IX compliance to provide students with appropriate accessibility. 

What are the plans for the existing furniture and equipment in the current high school? 

Existing furniture and equipment that fits the design of a 21st Century learning environment will be moved into the new high school.  
-  Flexible learning furniture seen in Plaza A and B would be moved to the new high school
-  Current stadium scoreboard can be moved to a new location


If we don't have a design for the new high school, then how do we know how much it will cost?

A budget for the project has been developed based on comparable-sized projects in Minnesota that have been constructed recently or are currently under construction, taking into account construction market conditions and anticipated construction inflation between now and when the project would go out to bid (in mid-2020). The project will be publicly bid, receiving pricing from various contractors, and the project will be awarded to the lowest responsible contractor. If the referendum passes, the project will be designed with significant input from a variety of District stakeholders, including teachers, staff, community members, parents, students and more - and as such, a design without this input has not been developed.

Will local Owatonna-based contractors be used if the bond referendum passes?

By state law the District will be required to use public bidding for virtually all of the work. Local contractors will have the opportunity to participate in all bidding. The final packaging and bid scopes are far from developed at this point – that work would occur if the referendum passes. Regardless of how they are structured, there will be many opportunities for local businesses to participate in prime contractor, sub contractor, and supplier roles on the projects.

How was the Community Task Force on Facilities selected, and who served on it?

Last summer, the Community Task Force on Facilities was reconvened and many of the members who served three years ago served again in 2018.  In addition, anyone who was interested in serving on the task force submitted an application and was asked to join.  Task Force members provide a wide variety of backgrounds, skills and perspectives, represent a broad cross-section of the community and demonstrate an interest in the long-term health of the school district. 36 members served on the Task Force.

What was the Community Task Force on Facilities asked to do?

The Task Force charge was to update the long-range Facilities Master Plan (initially adopted by the Board in 2015) for recommendation to the School Board.  The Master Plan recommendation was based on building capacity, current and projected enrollment, educational needs of the School District, alignment with the District's Strategic Vision, safety and security, community recreation, and financial stewardship.

How did the Community Task Force on Facilities arrive at its recommendations?

The Task Force met for nearly four months, attended more than 15 hours of meetings, reviewed hundreds of pages of documentation and discussed several options before agreeing on their recommendation.  Input came from the community through an input session and survey.  The facilities recommendation was based on safety and school environment, instructional space, funding, activities and community spaces, and community perceptions.  More information about the task force meetings can be found on our website.

Did the task force study renovation of the current high school?

The Task Force studied various options to address needs at the High School, including remodeling on the current site. The current site is 19 acres, which is only one-quarter the site size recommended by the Minnesota Department of Education for a High School of 1,700 students. Renovation would cause significant disruption to students and staff during several years of construction. It would also require an off-site athletic complex to be able to accommodate activities needs, including parking.