Sonora Union High School District trustees want to hear ideas about what to do with the vacant and deteriorating Sonora Dome at a hearing scheduled for Thursday evening,
“We’d like to see what the community can do as far as moving forward to keep it as a thriving icon and structure in the community of Sonora,” said Board President Kathy Ankrom. “It's time to broaden our scope to see if there are people out there with any wonderful ideas to get it to the next stage of a place in our community.”
No decision is expected to be made about the future of the dome during the 6 p.m. meeting in the district’s conference room. No timeline has been set on when or how the structure could be ceded from the district’s ownership, Ankrom said.
Ankrom referred to the sale of the dome as a “daunting task” and said “all options would be looked at very carefully” before a final “considered decision” was made.
Both Ankrom and Sonora Union High School District Superintendent Pat Chabot said that no one has contacted them with specific proposals to take ownership or stewardship of the dome.
Thursday’s meeting would be an opportunity for the public to present their ideas on the future of the dome, Chabot said, and the board will be open to any specific options from the public.
“Everything is on the table,” Chabot said.
Chabot said he had spoken to trustees individually and all seek to “come up with the best idea that will be best for the school district and community and the dome.”
Ankrom said she suspects that many of the board members would agree with the dome and Wildcat Ranch Advisory Committee recommendation to sell the dome and two adjacent buildings rented by the Tuolumne County Arts Alliance, though she had not spoken to anyone specifically about the issue yet, she said.
Ankrom said she agrees with the committee’s recommendation, noting “it’s very difficult for the school to keep this building” because of the expense of upkeep and its lack of use as an educational site for students.
“I just hope the community is supportive of keeping the dome in the community and wants to restore it maybe to some of its former glory,” Ankrom said. “There’s so many restrictions as to what we can do with it as a place of education.”
The dome was abandoned as a structurally unsafe school site after a 1967 seismic inspection and was used for multiple educational administrative purposes until it was vacated by the Sonora Union High School District in 2010.
Chabot said he hopes to have many people attend the meeting, and that it will result in “some directions about some place else to look, some place else to research.”
Tuolumne County Arts Alliance Executive Director Connie O’Connor has advocated for a “Save the Dome” organization for use as a performing arts cultural center with a theater, a historical museum, a children's exploratorium, or an atrium.
The formation of such a group, she said, would likely be contingent on what occurs at the Thursday workshop, where trustees could finally publically relate “their position about what the property should be.”
“My vision has never swayed. It has always been about saving the property and that building in particular,” she said. “Times have changed and people have changed and there's still a lot of interest in maintaining the building for something, whatever that something is.”
The board has not declared the dome and the adjacent TCAA buildings as surplus property, which would allow for the sale, lease or donation.
O’Connor and other members of the advisory committee advocated for the dome to be donated by the board to an organization tasked with renewing the purpose of the property.
The methodology and participation of city and county government, corporate sponsorships, individual fundraising and the National Trust for Historic Preservation would all be required to make the performing arts cultural center a reality, but their participation is as of yet unknown until the board gives a clear indication of their intentions, O’Connor said.
“We are a primary tenant. My interest is also in what their plans are because that very much impacts what the Arts Alliance will be facing,” O’Connor said. “Whatever happens Thursday is just the beginning of a long process.”
The dome is vacant except for overflow district document and materials storage, and a basement room is used by local community radio station KAAD-LP.
Much of the structure has fallen into disrepair, with a leaky roof, dilapidated flooring and some walls fissured with cracks.
The 2002 Dome Investigative Steering Committee determined that it would require $2,607,971 for a range of demolitions and structural repairs, with additional costs of $453,000 to $718,000 for management costs, permit fees, and hazardous material removal.
There have been “a lot of options kind of thrown out there at the committee meetings,” Ankrom said, but hopefully the Thursday meeting will reveal a clear and specific solution that could save the dome once and for all.