There are times communities set aside profit for purpose. This is one of those times.
The Sonora Dome must be saved. The building that has stood majestically on a hill overlooking downtown for more than a century deserves much more than its custodians have given it.
In short, the building has been left to rot.
Giuseppe Ricapito and Maggie Beck of The Union Democrat went inside this week and found musty rooms, stress fractures, roof leaks, rotted floors. Even the auditorium, refitted with carpeting and paint 20 years ago for an Eagle Scout project, shows signs of neglect.
The last tenants – the Sonora Union High School administrators – left seven years ago. Clearly there were problems then or else they would not have moved to the Sonora High School campus, but it begs the question, just how much care has the building received since?
District Superintendent Pat Chabot told Ricapito he doesn’t know, but “it is up there quite a bit.” Maintenance is not factored on a building-by-building basis, he said. Why not? And are there no records kept to show what projects school employees are working on?
Perhaps this is not a surprising comment from a school district that has no plan for facilities maintenance, not for its old buildings, not for the new ones taxpayers are now in the process of paying off $23 million in bonds ($44 million by the time the last bond is paid off in 2045) and not for the new swimming pool that has created so much consternation in the community.
But this is all past. The future looms. How does the community get the money to save a treasure?
Fifteen years ago, an architecture firm said it would cost $2.6 million to renovate the building – structural repairs, HVAC, plumbing, an elevator, electrical and fire equipment. Plus, up to about $700,000 for fees and asbestos removal.
So, $3.3 million 15 years ago.
We are left to speculate on how much renovation would be in today’s dollars. And the building has steadily deteriorated.
It’s important to note that the architectural study was funded with a $25,000 grant from the Sonora Area Foundation that was given to a committee called DISC, the Historic Dome Assessment/Feasibility Study. The committee was formed by what is now the Tuolumne County Arts Alliance.
The group included the Sonora High School District Superintendent, local historians, archeologists, Columbia College president, educators, attorneys, builders, real estate developers, local government officials and descendants of Sonora's original families, Tuolumne County Arts Alliance Executive Director Constance O’Connor said.
She also suggested that it’s time for the committee to be revitalized and that a Save the Dome fundraising effort be launched.
Yes it is.
There is no choice but for this effort to be a public private partnership if the Dome is to survive. O’Connor has big dreams for the building – to make it a home for the arts. Who knows what other uses an informed and concerned group of citizens might come up with?
Whatever is developed, it's likely not going to be a paying proposition. The design of the building, the fact there is limited parking means it won’t generate the millions needed for repairs.
This is a labor of love. Imagine looking toward that hill and not seeing that dome.