The extended family of the Sonora High School agriculture program showed up in full force at the Sonora Union High School board of trustees meeting Tuesday night to support the recommendation of the Sonora Dome and Wildcat Ranch advisory committee board to keep the Wildcat Ranch property.

The passionate entreaties of a dozen agriculture students, teachers, and advocates called upon the board to not only adhere to the advisory board’s recommendation, but also to commit additional funding and aid to the wilting program.

Sonora FAA student president Rachael Davis, clad in the dark navy blue jacket of the FAA program, said, “agriculture is very important to feeding the world, that’s important.”

“This jacket, the ag program, Mrs. Ingalls, the ag teachers before her, gave me a lot. I was the quiet girl in the corner,” she said, but the program gave her the opportunities to achieve things she never thought possible.

“One person could fall in love with farming and go feed hundreds of people.”

Advisory committee member and Sonora High School agriculture teacher Stacey Ingalls asked the board to “look into the long term effect of the decision” that the board would ultimately make.

“What other program, what other class, math department or English department,” she said, “is being asked to fund their program?”

“We need to ask our district, how are we going to support this program?”

Ingalls also said a community agriculturist from the Escalon area had discussed with her providing additional financial support for the Sonora High School agriculture program.

Additional speakers in support of the 138 acre Wildcat Ranch included Summerville High School agriculture teacher Rachel Castongia, former students of the Sonora High School ranch location in Jamestown, and multiple FAA students from Sonora High School and Gregori High School in Modesto.

More than 35 people attended the meeting.

Advisory committee chairperson Connie Williams said the committee had determined that “the school district does not hold the Ag program to the same level as football and the swimming pool for which bonds were passed to upgrade and build facilities.”

Sonora FFA vice president Britain Traub sought to emphasize that the lessons of “ownership and responsibility” could be taught through the agriculture program, just as much as other high school specializations.

“It's just a really important piece of land that we use to increase our knowledge of animals and the largest industry in America,” she said. “It’s important that our students learn at this farm.”

Board President Kathy Ankrom said the board supports the agriculture program, but noted that any effort to augment and maintain the program would likely have to be collaborative.

“We do value the program, we do have it and we do want to develop it,” she said. “We’re going to keep moving forward in a positive direction and make decisions we can all be comfortable and proud of.”

Board clerk Jeanie Smith added that a discussion of the dome and ranch properties should be perpetually added to the agenda as a discussion item.

“At some point we need to make a decision,” she said.

The board accepted the committee report but is not bound by the recommendation.

Superintendent Pat Chabot thanked each of the committee members for their contributions to the advisory committee.

“This process did allow the board to hear the community as to options for the ranch for the dome,” he said.

Williams also noted during her presentation that the Dome should become an “arts cultural center under the proper organization.”

“The committee recommends the Dome cannot be removed (demolition) because of it’s historical and sentimental value to the community,” she said.

Sharon Marovich, representing Tuolumne Heritage Committee, attested to the “great sentimental value” of the structure and distributed a magazine to the board which included National Trust for Historic Preservation properties that could be listed for sale.

Marovich called on the board to qualify its “deliberate intention to find the right steward of this historic body” and diverge from the “status quo” that had led to the dilapidation of the Dome.

Their final decision should “realize the significance of what you are being asked to do,” she said, “unless the district has the vision to save the dome for future generations.”

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.

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