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Trustees To Weigh In On Future Of Sonora’s Historic Dome Building

Sonora, CA — Following the Thanksgiving break, a school district superintendent is hoping to carve out a serious board discussion over what to do with a beloved asset that might arguably be considered as its biggest leftover.

Over the summer the Sonora Union High School District (SUHSD) trustees appointed a citizens advisory board to look into how best to deal with the district-owned historic Dome and Wildcat Ranch. The former is a landmark, largely-unused non-ADA-compliant building that sits above downtown Sonora; the latter is an underused property that houses the school’s ag programs and a cross-country trail. Several weeks ago the committee made nonbinding recommendations that the ranch property should remain a district asset but that the Dome and two adjacent outbuildings should perhaps be parceled off from the district’s adjacent alternative education campus and athletic fields to be sold as surplus.

According to District Superintendent Pat Chabot the board plans to hold a separate meeting and discussion over Wildcat Ranch, tentatively slated for Jan. 11. However, next Thursday, it will meet to go over potential ideas — and hopefully entertain new thoughts — about ways to deal with the Dome. The public is welcome to attend the session, which will be held at the district office.

Waiting For Board Members To Each Weigh In

“I guess we have kicked the can down the road without making a decision of what to do with the Dome. I would like to have some resolution as to what we want to do with it,” Chabot confides. “Our current board has never really gotten together and really talked about it…we are hoping this meeting…will air out some ideas as to where we should start looking and really get serious,” he adds. As the agenda calls for a board discussion, no actions such as declaring it surplus or leasing it are yet on the table.

Chabot shares that one of the latest options that has come to light is the possibility of renting out the Dome as a special events space, an idea spawned by a request from Habitat for Humanity of Tuolumne, which is eying the venue for an event it is planning next fall.

He confirms no offers from any parties to buy the Dome have yet to come in. “Over the years we have been waiting for a knight in shining armor to come up and say ‘I’ll buy that building and completely retrofit it and use it for the community’,” Chabot half-jokes. While the local Arts Alliance, which rents one of the adjacent outbuildings, might welcome a donation of the Dome, he maintains that it would probably not be the best use of public funds to simply donate the building — which has not been assessed but is insured for $5.5 million — to another organization.

Described as priceless by some, the non-ADA complaint Dome has constrained parking, ancient heating/ac, plumbing and electricity and leaky roof issues. Nonetheless, the circa 1909 building, while hard to put a price on, is a definite charmer with solid underpinnings. So much in fact that Chabot likens its structural soundness to a former, similarly-designed administrative building from the same period that took several days using dynamite and a wrecking ball to demolish. Though the Dome’s future remains to be seen, Chabot says plans are for successful re-purposing efforts to ensure that it remains a local landmark looking down on Sonora for all to enjoy.