Frequently Asked Questions

Answered by Superintendent Jeff Drake

Q:  Why is the district asking the community to consider a new school?

A:  The district was engaged in a strategic planning process that created a vision for education in the Fergus Falls Public School District.


The final stages of our strategic planning process involved analyzing the district’s facilities to ensure that they supported our educational vision.


In all, the Facilities Committee spent approximately two years assessing the district’s buildings.  This included commissioning an independent facility analysis which was conducted by ATS&R.

Ultimately, the Facilities Committee recommended repurposing McKinley and Adams and building a new elementary school.


The following graphic illustrates the knowledge, skills, abilities and personal traits that is our vision for Otter graduates. 

Q:  What grades would the new school serve?

A:  The new school would house grades 3 - 5. 

Q:  Where would the new school be located?

A:  The district purchased nearly 29 acres along highway #210 across from the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center and next to Hilltop Celebration Church. 

Q:  Why was this location selected?

A:  The location was deemed ideal for a third through fifth grade elementary school for several reasons.


First, its proximity to the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center greatly supports the award-winning Prairie Science Classroom experience available to our students in grades four and five. The location of a new 3rd through 5th grade elementary school would enhance this program by affording greater accessibility to the Prairie while reducing

transportation time. 


A new facility would also allow us to adequately address music space for our upper elementary students.  Something we are sorely lacking currently. 


The district also lacks green space.  We have needs for additional practice and game facilities – especially for middle school sports. 


The site was within city limits and has access to city utilities.

Q:  How large would the new school be?

A:  The building is projected to be approximately 110,000 square feet.  For comparison, Lincoln School (former Target Building) is

approximately 89,000 square feet.  

Q:  What features would the new school offer?

A:  The following amenities would be key design features:

Q:  How would a new 3rd-5th grade elementary school impact grade configurations  throughout the district?

A:  If the community supports this plan, schools/grades would be configured as follows.

Q:  How much would the new school cost?

A:  It is estimated to cost $54.8 million.  

Q:  What would happen to McKinley and Adams?

A:  The district would look to sell these buildings so that they could be repurposed to meet a community need.  Options could include: child care center, apartments/assisted living, Boys/Girls Club, etc.  

Q:  When was the last new school constructed in the district?

A:  The last completely new school built in the Fergus Falls School District was the middle school which dates back to 1969.  

Q:  When would the community potenially vote on a school bond?

A:  If the survey results indicate that there is interest and support for this plan, the district would present the community with a bond vote in April or May of 2024.

Q:  If the community were to approve a bond for a new elementary school, what would the timeframe be for its construction?

A:  This is a little difficult to project.  The district would not begin working with an architect to design the new school until a bond referendum was successfully passed.  The design process would involve feedback from school staff and the community.  It is likely that the new school would not be available for occupancy for at least two years.

Q:  Why can't they have an exit to 210, and just lower the speed limit from the stop light on Pebble Lake Rd to Cascade? 

A:  MNDOT controls #210.  As you travel #210 heading west, I think it is likely that a right hand turn entrance would be present.  Creating a left hand turn lane would be the school’s responsibility and very expensive - if it were even approved by MNDOT which is questionable based on prior conversations that I have had with them.  The parcel connects to Cascade in two locations.

Q:  Will the city need to build a water tower, because there is extremely low water pressure up on that side of the hill?

A:  We did reach out to the city regarding this question when we were evaluating the property.  We were told the aquifer has an adequate water supply, but that a lift station/pumps would be necessary to provide the proper pressure.  The need for an additional water tower was not indicated.

Q:  What is a cost comparison of a renovation to the existing schools? It seems that other private entities have done very well renovating old schools no longer with the district to make them better spaces. For example in our community the Eisenhower school, now Hillcrest Lower elementary; and Jefferson building now Lakes Services Co-Op.

A:  The ATS&R facility review, factoring inflation, would indicate an estimated $15 - $17 million in site and building improvements.  However, that would not include any major remodeling necessary nor would it include any additional square footage (present prices are ~ $400/finished square foot).  

The new school is sized at 102,000 square to conform to modern school building standards.  In comparison, McKinley is 41,770 sq.ft. while Adams is 44,826 sq.ft.  so combined we have 86,596 sq.ft. To add the 15,404 additional square feet at $400/finished sq.ft. would be another $6,161,600.  

I don’t have an estimate on how much any major remodeling would cost.  

The buildings are old and the sites are undersized making it highly questionable whether an expansion proposal would be approved by MDE.  These fixes also do nothing to address the parking and traffic concerns at McKinley and Adams nor the inefficiencies and lost instructional time transporting students to and from the PWLC and KSS.  The sites would also not allow for any middle school fields to support our activities.  

Q:  Will space for any future expansion be included? It seems that other projects have initially had them but cost savings had them cut. If those plans for the future would have stuck our community would not be on the hook for 54 million dollar project. For example I understand that Cleveland school had initial designs for a second level but the footings for that got cut to save money, leaving the district without options to expand.

A:  At 29 acres, the site has plenty of room for expansion which can be taken into account during the design process - consider that McKinley and Adams are each located on sites between 2 and 2.5 acres.  I am aware that the district considered the possibility of adding classrooms onto Cleveland at one point.  I had heard there were complications with infrastructure e.g. geothermal wells that support the HVAC system that would have been impacted.  

Q:  Is the Lincoln School building fully occupied once kindergarten is moved there?

A:  Essentially,Yes”, the building will be fully utilized housing Childrens’ Corner, Otter Preschool & ECFE and kindergarten.  Phase #2 has ten classrooms.  We typically run 8 or 9 kindergarten sections so there could be one classroom unoccupied.  Future enrollment could require the use of the 10th classroom as families have the ability to telework and continue to move outside of the metro.  

Q:   Is Cleveland Elementary School the best place for 1st and 2nd grade students to fully develop into 21 century learners and citizens like the new proposed elementary school is for 3rd-5th graders? The concern is new resources for the beginning of students' education career in preschool and kindergarten to an older building not up to standards for 21 century learners and then back to a brand new building. Are those two years lost or negatively affected on our students' education?

A:  When evaluating what made the most sense, replacing McKinley and Adams (both built in 1939) was deemed to be a much higher priority than replacing Cleveland which was newer to begin with and also included several new classrooms and a new gym less than 10 years ago. It is also located on a much larger site.  Cleveland could benefit from several upgrades - student and staff bathrooms, cafeteria, office etc., but is a better facility and site than either McKinley or Adams.  The Facilities Committee (school board, administration, teachers/staff and community members) reviewed the condition and purpose of each of the district’s buildings.  Upon evaluation, replacing Cleveland was not a recommendation.  

Q:   I understand USFW is responsible for creating an underpass on 210. What is the likelihood this will happen? This was a large part of why I supported the project, knowing students would be safely crossing to PWLC and reducing bussing.

A:  An underpass on #210 has been discussed with U.S. Fish & Wildlife.  A level of interest in the concept was expressed, however, this would involve federal funding and their funding for capital projects doesn’t open up again for a couple of years.  What other potential capital requests might be under consideration and where the underpass would be viewed in terms of priority is beyond my ability to predict.  An underpass would certainly enhance our access to PWLC though even without it the location alone would significantly reduce lost instructional time.  

Q:   Will the number of classrooms represent current enrollment or a few more for growth?

A:  The number of classrooms represent what we predict will meet our future needs with some room for growth.

Q:   Will the Media Center be sized for the volume of books/shelves read by current circulation rates in 3-5 or larger? Will there be a separate instrumental music room to accommodate storage/practice for band and orchestra? Will there be sufficient rooms for RTI, Speech, SPED, and other specialists?Will there be sufficient rooms for counseling/discipline/and meetings with parents by administration/faculty? Will sufficient space for equipment/materials/personnel be budgeted for custodial needs? Will sufficient restrooms for adult needs be provided - not just one male & one female?  Will generous amounts of Natural Lighting be available in each classroom?

A:  From a design standpoint, not a single brick has been placed.  The design work would begin if the community decides to pass the new school bond.  Similar to the Lincoln Phase #2 project, staff who will be working in the building will have an opportunity to share their insights and recommendations for the architect to consider as the school is designed.  

Q:   Will the cost of the new school impact the district’s ability to increase salaries and benefits?

A:  No, passing a building bond earmarks those funds specifically for the purpose outlined within the ballot question.  If authorized, new revenue generated by property tax increases provide the dollars required to pay for the project.  In this case, the repayment schedule is spread over 22 years.  

One consideration:  maintaining two smaller 1939 buildings should be less efficient than operating a single, new, larger building.  (Some of this is mitigated because the new school would be a little larger than the two smaller buildings combined.)  Given the efficiency considerations, the district may save on operating costs which is money that can be used to meet other district needs. 

Q:    From my understanding, the pass way under the highway to access the Prairie Wetlands from the proposed school is actually quite a distance away and may not even be an option due to codes and restrictions, and therefore students will still need to be bussed to the Prairie Wetlands. Can you please provide more clarification on this?

A:  Given the topography of the school’s property and that of the PWLC, the best location for an underpass would be in the southwest corner of the school’s property.  It would be a fair distance from one building to the other although one of the primary goals of the PSC is to get students outside.  Regarding codes and restrictions - that would be for U.S. Fish & Wildlife to work out with MNDOT.  There is an underpass at 210 near Nature’s Garden World so it has been done before.  If the underpass never came to be, the time spent on a bus would still be drastically reduced with the new location.    

Q:    What's the plan if the new school proposal doesn't pass? Then, will you be renovating Adams and McKinley?

A:  We will continue to keep up with routine maintenance of these buildings as our budget allows.  Major renovations to Adams and McKinley would require bond passage by the voters and the blessing of MDE on a Review & Comment proposal potentially spending millions of dollars on two 85-year-old buildings on undersized lots.  

Q:    I understand that we have two aging buildings in our district, but it appears to me that Kennedy is the building with the most overcrowding. Why are we proposing to pour almost 55 million dollars into a school with facilities that aren't even going to be accessed by those students? Bussing middle school students across town to access new facilities will likely just create additional challenges and seems to be yet another ‘band-aid’ for our district.

A:  Moving 5th grade out of KSS will open up 5 classrooms and should provide a little extra elbow room.   With a major renovation back in 2010, KSS is the best facility in the entire district.  We have also upgraded components of Roosevelt over the past few years which also serves the high school population.  Past decisions have an impact on future decisions.  In the early 2000s, the community voted “No” on a proposal for a new high school.  That led to the renovation and expansion of the middle school building that is now part of the KSS complex.  While KSS has experienced crowding, space has been tight in Cleveland, Adams and McKinley as well.

Q:    Why was the land purchased before the new school has even been voted on? What if it doesn't pass? What will happen with the land?

A:  One of the key aspects of a proposed new school is its location.  In this case, the location played a large part in determining the grade level configuration.  Had the district gone before the voters without a designated location, the question about “where is the new school going to be located” would have been asked over and over again.  If the voters turn down the proposal, the district will still own 29 acres of land within city limits that has city utilities and multiple access points.  Those types of properties aren’t abundantly available.  The district would likely continue to hold the parcel until some point in the future when a new school proposal might have greater support.  

Q:    What would happen to the Adams and McKinley buildings if there is no other company willing to purchase them? How will this impact the school's overall budget?

A:  While I have been told that the properties would generate interest, their sale certainly isn’t guaranteed.  From a budgetary standpoint, it would be necessary to address any conditions that, left ignored, could result in rapid deterioration of the facilities.  It wouldn’t be an ideal situation to say the least, but our current situation is also far from ideal.  

Q:    As a parent of students in our district, the window for my children to enjoy the new school is very short (3rd-5th). Was there consideration to include an additional project in other schools to expand this window? Possibly an updated weight room space, or a new/band choir room at KSS(grades 6-12) or Cleveland where we are already short on music space? The increase to the bond would be minimal, but it would likely be more appealing to a larger demographic of voters (music, sports, etc) Voters, especially parents, would feel their tax dollars are put to better use if the window was longer than just three grades.

A:  Over the last few years, a lot of ideas have been tossed around and several projects have been accomplished to improve our facilities.  The renovation of the Otter Fieldhouse has taken place.  The high school weight room was given a complete makeover.  We also have a newly designated weight room for the middle school.  New bathrooms were added to the ALC as well as a commercial teaching kitchen.  There are discussions about significant upgrades to sound and light within the KSS auditorium.  The new school would add a soccer field and baseball field for middle school/junior high students.  It would also include music space which would eliminate the need to transport students to KSS - thereby freeing up existing music areas.  With Cleveland potentially housing 1st and 2nd grade in the future the need for additional large group rehearsal space at Cleveland is eliminated or greatly reduced.  The feedback we received from the community survey indicated that the price point and subsequent tax impact will be major factors impacting potential support.  Our goal was to set a cap at under $50 million.  $54.8 was only supported because the payback was structured in a way to save our taxpayers money.   

Q:    Can you elaborate on district enrollment. Is it increasing, flatlining, or decreasing? How does this impact the district’s decision to go out for a bond?

A:  The table below shows our projected enrollment through 2028/2029.  This is an important consideration in right-sizing a new school.  The table shows some declining enrollment, although new facilities also tend to attract enrollment.  One of the most difficult elements to predict are families who have/will make the decision to leave urban or metro areas to raise their children in a small town, rural environment.  Enrollment is a consideration, but the bond request is about creating a learning environment that supports all learners and aligns with our vision of Otter education.  That vision aligns extremely well with the skills needed to be career, college and life ready.

Note: Enrollments shown above include iQ Academy.