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The Heart of Handke: Elk River's Oldest Education Building Turns 90

Since 1930, Elk River’s Handke Center - known to many as the “Handke Building” - has been the heart of education in the community. 

Marking 90 years of continuous operation, the Handke building was the original Elk River High School, serving the Elk River Area School District’s oldest learners and serving as the community’s educational center, near the heart of downtown Elk River. The north wing - which now serves as early education classroom space - was added about two decades after the high school first opened, serving students beginning in 1951. 

With the construction of a new Elk River High School north of the railroad tracks, the Handke building transitioned into a junior high. Later, it would be an elementary school and ISD 728’s first magnet school, until other elementary buildings and Salk Middle School joined the number of buildings serving the District in Elk River. 

Finally, in 2002, it was given its current purpose - the heart of family education and community learning - as the Handke Family Center. 

“It’s a true monument to lifelong learning,” said Cory Franson, ISD 728 Director of Community Engagement and Community Education. “There was a time when nearly everyone in Elk River could say they had been in Handke at one time or another as a student. Now, it draws children, families, adults and senior citizens for everything from preschool to pickleball and drivers’ education to Adult English Language Learners and G.E.D. graduates.” 

Even since its new designation as the Handke Family Center, the building has seen change. A nature explore center was added to the northern end of the site, sitting above the famous “Handke Pit” stadium. The award-winning Nature Classroom is utilized by our early education students, area families, and even neighbors who can learn using the area’s natural features and sensory experiences. 

“The Nature Classroom is really not like anything I’ve ever seen offered by other districts in my time in education,” said Superintendent Dan Bittman. “It’s a hands-on place to learn, which is such a great thing for a family center like Handke to offer. It’s easy to see why it’s a favorite with anyone who comes here for a carnival, class or an event like ‘International Mud Day,’ which is a great day for the kids.” 

The old main building will get a bit of work done over the next two construction seasons, as the 2019 referendum will pave the way for a complete remodel of the 1930 wing of the Handke building. Remodels on the campus have also occurred over the last 12 years that have restored the building to its historical status, added the Charles Blesener Community Room, and provided safety features for staff and students. 

“We like to say that ‘it all starts here,’ because it really did,” Franson said. “ISD 728 wouldn’t be what it is without this wonderful building at the center of it all. It continues to serve our communities well, and we look forward to another 90 years here, hosting our future generations.” 

To celebrate the 90 year mark of the Handke Building dedication on March 25, 1931, ISD 728 Community Education will be offering class discounts March 20 through 26, 2021. To take advantage of these discount offers visit, search for 728 Community Education on Facebook or check them out on twitter at