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Productivity, longevity among benefits of investing in employee health
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Many Owatonna residents, like many people elsewhere, work for the weekend. But with roughly a third of their waking hours spent at work, the way that work is done and what happens on the job can make profound changes in people’s lives outside work.

This is why some companies have chosen to invest in healthy snacks or fitness rooms for their employees, or to engage in corporate partnerships with businesses like Sollid Studios, which tailor exercise classes for companies. According to Katie Sollid, co-owner of Sollid Studios, her Owatonna business has brought equipment and instructors into conference rooms and hosted companies in their own studio as well.

“You want happy employees,” Sollid said about her company’s reason for offering corporate partnerships. “Yoga and fitness lower stress for people and keep them more mobile and flexible.”

Though demand for corporate partnerships has fallen with the public health and legal risks posed by COVID-19 to workers and companies, Sollid said every company who’s engaged with Sollid Studios once has come back for more. Lunch-hour yoga, which gives employees a revitalizing break from work without having to leave the office, she said has been especially popular, though companies can choose to customize the kind of class or services they want for their employees.

Julian Hast / By JULIAN HAST julian.hast@apgsomn.com 

Katie Sollid and Stephanie Hanson, co-owners of Sollid Studios with Katie Berg (not pictured), offer corporate partnerships to local companies interested in promoting a healthy and physically active workforce. (Julian Hast/southernminn.com)

In addition to yoga and other fitness classes, Sollid Studios also offers cycling at their facility on South Oak Avenue.

According to Brad Meier, president of the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, many companies invest in the health of their employees because they know the quality of their work benefits from it.

“If they have a healthier workforce, there’s a lot that goes with that — higher productivity, lower healthcare costs, happier, more energetic workforce — and that all pays off in the end,” Meier said. “Not only do you want your people to be doing well, but if it’s financially positive, that’s just icing on the cake.”

More than just partnering with fitness centers to make exercise classes more convenient for workers, some companies are even investing in exercise facilities, healthy snack options and ergonomic desks for their employees.

Minimizer, a semi truck parts provider with a brand new facility in Owatonna’s industrial park, invests in all of the above. In addition to providing employees with treadmills and other cardio equipment, as well as weightlifting equipment, the company’s gym also has showers so workers can conveniently transition from work to exercise and back without having to stop at home. They’ve also invested in a cafeteria stocked with healthy food options and adjustable desks, monitors and ergonomic chairs to make employees comfortable and allow them to take care of their spines.

Minimizer, a semi truck parts company with a corporate office in Owatonna, offers health-conscious amenities such as ergonomic chairs and adjustable standing desks to their employees. (Photo courtesy of Minimizer)

Steve Hansen, director of marketing at Minimizer, said COVID-19 has increased many employers’ awareness of health. And with employees increasingly taking time off for their health while operations at Minimizer — as at many other companies — are busier than ever, the timing couldn’t be worse. Minimizer’s health interventions are a way to keep workers healthy, comfortable and at work.

“Outside of the selfish thing … obviously it’s nice for employees here to not be sick or to avoid sick time,” Hansen went on. “ To have healthy snack options and a comfortable desk makes coming to work more pleasant for them, too.”

City busy clearing sediment along Morehouse Dam

Avid park-goers may have noticed the Straight River looked a little more “green” this year around the Morehouse Dam — and not from the color of the water.

What many believed was thanks to the drought, the apparent sandbars, dunes and foliage near the dam can also be credited to the way the dam was designed some 15 years ago.

According to City Engineer Kyle Skov, one of the big reasons it appeared you could see the bottom of the river this summer was because of the sediment build up that continues to occur. The build up, he said, is a result of how the dam was designed during its 2006 reconstruction.

“The engineers didn’t want to build [the dam] this way, but the community did,” said Skov. “The community wanted the cascading water and the [Minnesota Department of Natural Resources] wanted the fish passage. Those things result in water slowing down and the sediment deposits we see now.”

Starting Monday, a crew from the city Public Works Department began clearing away the built up sediment, a project Skov said will take two days with cleaning of the area and streets included. Though sediment removal would typically fall under a project for the Parks and Recreation Department, Skov said the obvious reason is his department having the necessary equipment and it falling under his purview.

This is not the first time a backhoe and dump truck have been called to the dam. Skov said the city cleared out sediment about three years ago, too, and a sandbar directly below the dam was notably removed in 2015 and 2016 as a result of major flooding events.

“There is more erosion when we have floods, and more erosion upstream results in more sediment depositions,” Skov said. “We won’t be clearing it out every three years, it will depend on flooding events and when and how they happen.”

Prior ot the 2015 dredging, the city council had considered a much more expensive proposal to create new structures to change the flow of the river through the dam and prevent sediment buildup. In the end, the city settled on dredging as needed, and obtained a Department of Natural Resources permit allowing further maintenance as needed.

At the time of the 2016 sandbar removal, Skov called the sandbar an “unsightly” distraction from one of the city’s signature features.

“The sediment build up isn’t dangerous, it’s just some people in the community don’t like how it looks,” Skov said. “It’s really just cosmetics.”

Though the two days of construction are less than scenic, Skov said the crew will clean up everything by the end of the day Tuesday. He also said this will be an ongoing “issue” for as long as the dam remains designed the way that it is.

“This is not going to go away,” he said. “The design they came up with results in sediment, and they knew that when they designed it.”

Task Force tours current high school for second meeting
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For their second meeting, those responsible with determining the fate of the current high school were given and up close and personal experience.

Some members of the Existing Owatonna High School Citizens Task Force were able to tour the building and gain insight and a deeper understanding of the issues within the structure and how this will influence potential solutions that will soon be discussed.

“They now have enough background about the building and can set their focus on discussing a solution,” said Superintendent Jeff Elstad. “They still have a lot of deliberating to do.”

The next step for the Task Force is to dig into the solutions proposed by the district and those submitted through the Engage Owatonna website. With only $11 million to work with, this is no small task for the 25 members of the task force.

Due to the fact that this money is dedicated for district use, some ideas that have been submitted aren’t able to be considered, and others would most likely require more funding than what is available.

The Task Force does have the option to seek out potential partnerships with outside organizations and businesses, but according to Bob Olson, facilities and infrastructure manager, those options have not come up in discussion at the meetings yet.

Partners from Wold Architects are working closely with the group to ensure the ideas they come up with are financially feasible.

Elstad said that small groups of members gathered to discuss ideas, opinions and what they learned from the tour of the building and continuing these discussions are part of the next steps towards the task force compiling a presentation for the board.

According to the ideal timeline, the task force should have a presentation ready for the board by the end of January or early February. Elstad said that so far, he feels confident they will be prepared.

“Everyone is working hard after laying the groundwork during these first two meetings,” Olson said. “For the next meeting they’ll really be diving into ideas to include in the presentation for the board.”

Condition of the school

Prior to the new high school bond referendum being voted on and ultimately passed in 2019, a similar task force was created to assess the needs of the district. When this group of task force members toured the existing high school, many commented on the outdatedness of the building, a foul smell and the obvious safety hazards that lingered throughout the building.

In a 2018 story in the People’s Press, Olson spoke about the state of the science wing, which is one area set to be demolished, saying not much had been done with the building since the 1960s. In that same story, an associate with Wold Architects said the entire building had issues with ventilation and the “building is obviously a reflection of its age.”

Equipment that is housed in the industrial wing of the school are outdated and aren’t able to adequately prepare the students for a modern workforce. The locker rooms are another issue, as ventilation is poor and space is at a premium, according to Sal Bagley, an associate from Wold Architects. Additionally, the girls locker room is roughly half the size of the boys locker room, which is a Title IX violation because females are supposed to be allotted similar space as males.

Olson stated major issues regarding the cafeteria is that it’s underground so students generally spill out of it into other areas of the building to eat.

The next Current OHS Citizens Task Force meeting will take place on Thursday, Dec. 2.