A couple of construction vehicles dot the open field that will become the new Owatonna High School. A groundbreaking is scheduled for May 6, 2021 for the school which is set to open for the start of the 2023-2024 school year. Owatonna superintendent Jeff Elstad made the announcement during a "Coffee and Conversation" forum at the district office this month.

He said having the school outside Owatonna City limits opens up some natural world and environmental learning opportunities, as well as agricultural applications. Elstad said during construction, 150-200 workers will be on-site daily, and in some cases staying in Owatonna overnight. He said that helps the hospitality industry.

He addressed one citizen's concerns about heavy construction traffic moving through town, by saying with the access from Highway 14, people shouldn't see much extra traffic on most streets.

Answering a question on the need of the new high school in light of distance learning and online class, Elstad said repairs to the current building would be around $80 million. He also pointed out only about two-percent are likely to choose an online academy. Officials found through surveys that students want to be in class and parents feel that being in school is more productive.

Elstad said community members will have the chance to offer ideas on what to do with the current campus.

He gave other general updates during the forum, saying the Minnesota Department of Health has modified the way COVID cases and rates affect schools. That includes less reliance on county case numbers.

Using the high school as an example, he said on a given day 2-point-5-percent of the student body may be out with "COVID Like Illness" (CLI) but that doesn't mean they all have the virus. He said if the number reaches five-percent, they would take measures to determine whether the cases are "family" related or more of a "community spread."

Elstad reported that elementary school students are thriving and have been in five-day-a-week class for about 95% of the school year. He said "there's been hesitation" in the upper grades as students get used to four-day-a-week class. He said he anticipates five-day class for all grades in the fall.

Owatonna Schools Director of Teaching and Learning Michelle Krell addressed the group about Owatonna Online which has launched and will begin this fall. Krell said families were seeking an online school option in some cases. She said over 1,000 Owatonna district students chose distance learning. Hosting an online academy could provide another option for those who homeschool and will be open for students from other districts.

The in-person "Coffee and Conversation" in the district office ended a stretch of about a year of virtual meetings for the monthly program.

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Hopefully a 'regular' homecoming will return in 2021. Back in 2020 the event was held as a drive-thru event in downtown Owatonna. Check out the photos below.

Owatonna Homecoming: Cruise Main