Adaptive Reuse: Retrofitting An Old Target Store into a New School Campus

Lincoln School – Independent School District 544 Fergus Falls, Minnesota

When the Independent School District 544 in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, faced an overcrowding challenge, they knew they needed a new campus for the Lincoln School. The educational facility would house a new early childhood education program and the Otter Preschool and Children’s Corner.

Project Name: Lincoln School
Studio Name: Solatube International

Lincoln School by Solatube International - Sheet1
©Solatube International

The district did not want to raise local taxes on citizens, which led them to a 90,000-square-foot former Target retail store. Data shows that adaptive reuse is both greener and cheaper. The district’s plan was to retrofit the former big box store into a healthy, energy-efficient and energetic educational facility.

The design team faced several challenges when planning this transformation, including compliance with building and fire codes, as well as figuring out a way to introduce natural daylighting into a facility with internally located classrooms.

Lincoln School by Solatube International - Sheet2
©Solatube International

The data from case studies and design guides highlight the significance of daylighting and its ability to enhance student, faculty and staff health, productivity and happiness, as well as overall student performance. The design team knew it needed an effective daylighting solution that could adapt to the evolving needs of the school district while also complying with safety precautions.

Lead architect on the project, Scott DeMartelaere of Design Intent Architects, explained, “The teachers wanted natural light in all the classrooms. Because this is a big box, the inner classrooms would not have exterior walls and windows that would allow the introduction of natural light.”

The design team needed a different way to capture and deliver daylight to every classroom.

Lincoln School by Solatube International - Sheet3
©Solatube International

Forty-nine Solatube SolaMaster units were incorporated into the retrofit design to capture daylight at the rooftop and transfer it deep into the interior of the building, even on grey winter days.

Eighteen SolaMaster 300 DS systems were installed in the smaller classrooms and fitted with Thermal Insulation Panels to provide additional thermal performance with a lower U-factor against the central Minnesota climate. Solar-powered daylight dimmers were also added to each daylighting system, allowing the staff members to control the amount of daylight in each classroom with an easy-to-use remote.

“People who tour the school and are shown the Solatubes are impressed by the way they dim and the ability to light rooms completely on their own,” said Melissa Amundson, Fergus Falls District Early Childhood Education Administrator.

For larger classrooms, kitchen spaces and open-plan offices, thirty-one SolaMaster 750 DS systems were installed. This larger daylighting system delivers consistent light throughout the day by effectively capturing low-angle rays of light in the morning and late afternoon. It also rejects high-angle rays at midday to prevent glare and over-lighting.

©Solatube International

The Solatube Daylighting Systems worked seamlessly with the additional roofing support required by the district to meet building structural standards. Additionally, the Solatubes’ flexible tube design allows for future interior layout flexibility. The tubular daylighting system’s tubing and ceiling fixtures can easily be moved to new ceiling locations to fit any changing needs of the building. The daylighting fixtures can also be updated by simply swapping out or adding new accessories to customize the functionality of the daylighting system.


Through the use of tubular daylighting devices, the district made the big box facility a highly functional space, full of natural light — giving the old building a new life and purpose. The new facility includes a spacious central entrance, offices, cafeteria, gym and classrooms, all with bright and naturally lit interiors. Staff and students have reported positive effects of natural light, including improved performance and productivity.

“The ability to have access to natural light in all classrooms, even interior ones, has helped people feel more comfortable and less confined than an interior room that does not have windows or tubes at all,” added Amundson. “Many of the staff have been able to sustain plant life in their offices and classrooms for a more natural environment, something not typically achievable in buildings with only electrical lighting.”

The Fergus Falls School District was delighted with the savings from retrofitting the former Target for the Lincoln School. The project cost around $150 per square foot, which totaled around $8 million. Since newly constructed educational facilities cost approximately $250-350 per square foot on average, saving the district $10-15 million in total costs.


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