46.6 ° F
Full Weather
Sponsored By:

Sonora High Assembles Committee To Ponder Possible Sale Of Dome, Wildcat Ranch

Sponsored by:

Sonora, CA – Its potential listing might sound like this: beautiful historic circa 1909 building with original inner workings intact overlooking downtown Sonora seeks new purpose and potentially a new owner.

Held by Sonora High School Union District since the 1970s since acquiring it from original owner Sonora Elementary School ahead of its relocation, the city’s beloved landmark Dome building continues, for lack of sufficient funds to maintain it, to cause increasing concerns as to its future viability, even — as District Superintendent Pat Chabot readily admits — potentially its continued long-term existence.

While the financially struggling school district has periodically addressed the challenge of what to do with the non-earthquake compliant or ADA-accessible Dome as it is not safe for student use, Chabot recently received approval from the district trustees enabling him to revisit whether the property and/or portions of the district’s Wildcat Ranch might be declared surplus holdings. This would be the first step in potentially freeing them up for lease or sale.

The last feasibility study on the Dome was done back in 2002 and then basically shelved. So Chabot says he hopes that a fresh effort this time around might bring definitive results and a way forward for both the district and the landmark property that is such a historical and physical presence above downtown Sonora. Since state education code requires that the district assemble a “7/11 committee,” to be composed of at least seven but no more than 11 members representing a range of community stakeholders, Chabot advertised the opportunity and says that several people applied. At Friday’s trustees meeting Chabot will present his selections for board approval.

Advisory Committee Picks

Describing his picks, Chabot lists them off as follows: Ty Wivell, a community pillar who was a Dome graduate of Sonora Grammar School; Gretchen Birtwhistle, a UC-Davis Extension nutrition educator and Sonora High parent; Ricky Canepa, also an active Sonora High parent; Tuolumne County Arts Alliance Executive Director Connie O’Connor whose organization rents two Dome outbuildings; City of Sonora Mayor Connie Williams; district ag teacher Stacy Ingalls who is well-involved at Wildcat Ranch; the district’s Transportation Manager Chet White; Dick Gaiser, a well-respected local rancher and business owner; Kristi Dyer, who organized a Columbia College walking course at the ranch.

“In their applications all indicated that they want to see what is best for the school district as well as the properties,” Chabot notes. “All of us are going in with open minds and they will be providing advice on what we might do.“

Sorely underused due to the current state of its outdated infrastructure, the 20,000-plus square foot Dome is minimally maintained at a guesstimated cost of perhaps $15,000 per year, Chabot shares. Describing its current uses Chabot recounts, “We store some documents in the basement and retrofitted a space for the community radio station [project]. The historical society uses two classrooms on first floor for storage [for a monthly fee of $100] and the Arts Alliance rents its space [for $750 per month]. We hope that we can find somebody to put it to much better use and take care of it.”

The fervent hope, Chabot says, is that the district might be able to simply parcel and sell off just the Dome and two buildings that used to serve as the former cosmetology and the parent nursery buildings although the available parking there — just five spaces — is much constrained. However, if it could be worked out it would allow the district to continue using the rest of the parcel, which includes alternative education campus buildings and athletic fields.

Ways Forward For Wildcat Ranch

As for the 138-acre Wildcat Ranch, Chabot shares that the district has recently had a couple of groups come in to discuss possibilities. {Supervisor] Randy Hanvelt was talking about getting with the UC schools to build a science lab. There are lots of ideas floating around – a wide variety of things could be done if we can get the money to do it…we are still dealing with as a school property,” he states. “We definitely want to keep our ag ranch out there as much as possible and if need be find something that would be compatible with it — definitely not a Dollar General.”

Acquired through a land swap, most of the district-owned ranch remains in a natural state with about 15 acres in current use. Among the amenities is a cross-country training trail and a small barn for 4H and FFA smaller animal raising. Recent budget cuts have put plans for expanded crop production, a greenhouse and a larger barn on hold.

Once the new committee is activated, Chabot says it will probably meet biweekly through the summer and provide opportunities for public input ahead of presenting its findings and recommendations to the trustees sometime in September. Tomorrow’s trustees meeting will convene at 9 a.m. in the first floor conference room (100 School Street).