Excitement is mounting within the current Owatonna High School as staff are starting to think about making preparations for the big move, anticipated to begin in July, to the new campus on the south end of town.
Director of Facilities, Infrastructure and Security Bob Olson said big changes are happening daily and he’s always happy to report the project remains “on time and on budget.”
“I say it all the time, but I’m always amazed by how quickly projects are moving right along,” Olson said. “I was here this morning and I’m still noticing things that are different and new.”
Site work has been paused for the winter aside from some crews putting up fencing around the athletic fields. The work is anticipated to resume in April, according to the construction update website.
Many projects are underway in the three-story classroom. Finishing touches on the third floor are in progress along with installing bathroom fixtures, ceiling tiles and window installation. Ceramic tile, glazing cabinets and MEP finishes are just a few of the bigger projects happening currently on the second floor.
Crews are preparing tor MEP rough-ins, tape and mud, mechanical and electrical finishes and ceiling grid installation to begin and continue on the first floor.
Olson said because heaving machinery has been present in the commons area throughout the project, the projects in the three-story classroom began at the top and have been working their way down in preparation for the machinery to no longer be inside and work on the floors in the commons to begin.
Next month crews will be working on painting masonry walls, sheet rocking kitchen soffits and finish up the drywall in the cafeteria and commons area.
As for the main and auxiliary gyms, Olson said in the coming weeks crews are expected to vacate the main gym to prepare for the flooring to be installed. Terrazzo work is starting in the hallways along with several other projects in the fitness centers.
Tile is up in the athletics locker room bathroom and cabinets will be installed in the locker rooms soon.
After about two months, the auditorium is open again with the removal of the scaffolding while crews were working on the cat walk, ceiling clouds and more. Next month finishing touches will be added to the walls, the music area will prepare for sheetrock and the remaining scaffolding will come down.
Existing school update
As for the current high school campus, Superintendent Jeff Elstad said it will still be several weeks before anything is officially decided.
Last year, the Owatonna School Board elected to enter into an agreement with the Former Owatonna High School LLC. (FOHS). The group brought forth a formal proposal for what they plan to do with the site and that proposal was brought back to the Existing OHS Citizen’s Task Force for consideration.
Elstad said there were some areas in the initial proposal that the task force had questions on and asked FOHS clarify on the topics in question and come back with a revised proposal which they did last week.
“The task force will walk through the revised proposal when they meet on March 16,” Elstad said. “If they’re happy with the new proposal, they plan to present the information to the board during the work session on April 10.”
During that meeting, the school board will have the opportunity to ask questions before they take it to a vote, likely at the following meeting on April 24.
Southern Minnesota — specifically Steele County — has a long, rich history in agriculture. A group of leaders in a variety of ag roles, however, are determined to ensure that yesterday is not where the story ends.
Looking at today’s youth as tomorrow’s farm future, members of the new Learning Farm Task Force presented their dream Thursday night for the first time.
The group they picked for their test run? None other than the Steele County Free Fair Board — more formally known as the Steele County Agricultural Society Board of Directors.
At the beginning of the Fair Board’s regular meeting, Liz Tinaglia — an ag teacher at the Owatonna High School — introduced members of the task force who are spearheading the grassroots effort to bring a hands-on agricultural learning opportunity to public schools. Flanked by David Thamert, Mitch Dinse, Jamie Gray and Lucas Arndt, the group described what they believe is the true progressive future for ag education and careers.
“With the new high school coming, we started thinking about what we can do to further advance or agricultural and industrial tech programs,” said Dinse, who teaches advanced woodworking and construction technology at OHS. “How can we get the students up and out of the classroom to use their skills they’ve learned as they apply to a farm setting?”
The goals and mission of the task force is to create a hands-on agricultural learning environment for not only high school students, but all students and community members in Owatonna and the surrounding area.
Physically, the group said this would transform into a lab farm, which would incorporate general livestock species and speciality animals, plants of various species through both crops and a greenhouse, and be equipped with the most modernized farming technology available.
“We have already taken some steps with the district, including the 33-acres the district owns by Turtle Creek Nursery,” said Thamert, who works in ag banking. “The have been renting that out to a farmer for a number of years, but this year we took the step to hand those acres over to the ag department to wrap that into our curriculums.”
Arndt, a farmer southeast of Owatonna who will be assisting the students with the farming near Turtle Creek, said those acres will be used to plant 14 varieties of soybeans this year.
“When the time comes they will also have an opportunity to do soil testing and fully analyze the agronomic world,” Arndt said.
Gray said the dream and vision of the task force is not to make a production farm, but an educational farm. In order to make this happen, however, they would need strong partnerships with local, state and national leaders in the ag industry. This is where the Fair Board comes in.
While the ideal location for the learning farm would be at the Rypka building site just alongside the location of the new Owatonna High School, the task force members said they viewed it as paramount to explore other options as well.
While they hope to have a strong partnership regardless of where the lab farm is located, especially considering the direct correlation between the Steele County Free Fair and 4-H, the fairgrounds has been identified as a potential location for the lab farm. Gray told the Fair Board members to vision the Miracle of Birth Center at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, a truly educational experience, and consider something similar being set up on the fairgrounds that could be used year-round.
“We have talked for a long time about having a birthing center here,” said Wayne Steele, vice president of the Fair Board. “I think that this is really important, and that we could really help this group.”
“We are not asking for money,” Arndt said. “We are just in the planning process and we are exploring multiple locations, but maybe there is something we we could do with the fair. Maybe it’s a new building, or replacing one of the barns, and during fair week that building could be what houses something like the swine.”
Supporting youth education
Fair Manager Scott Kozelka, who had met with Tinaglia alongside board member Sandy Jirele earlier in the week, said he feels it is important the fair starts building a relationship with the task force now.
“There are a lot of different opportunities here, especially as dairy heard continue to shrink in Steele County,” Kozelka said. “When we as a Fair Board travel to these conventions and events, the biggest thing we run into is the importance of youth education. That’s our job at the fair, and I think we should work cooperatively together to make this work.”
The task force also expanded on the opportunities a learning farm would have on further developing career pathways in both agricultural and industrial science for OHS. They also expressed the desire to make the learning farm available to all ages of students, as well as opportunities for families and other community members to get involved.
While the task force is still in its infancy and hammering out details, members said this is not a unique idea and is something seen throughout California and even in some places in the midwest. This would, however, be the first learning farm of its kind in Minnesota.
The task force plans to hire a consultant that will help develop a feasibility study and kickstart a capital campaign for the learning farm. In the meantime, Tingalia said her group will be busy meeting with leaders in the ag industry and developing partnerships.