No bids have yet been submitted to purchase or lease the historic Sonora Dome and two adjacent buildings since it was declared surplus property in mid-January, but members of the public at the Sonora Union High School District board meeting Tuesday indicated that a collaboration to save the property is slowly developing.

Michael Gahagan gestured to two people he was seated next to in the back row of the district conference room, former TCAA Executive Director Connie O’Connor and Tuolumne County farming advocate Allan Zimmerly, and asked when it will be appropriate for a potential nonprofit organization to submit a bid for the property.

Superintendent Pat Chabot said Tier 3 entities, which include nonprofit organizations, and other public and private groups, could submit official bids for the dome property 120 days after the first notices were sent to Tier 1 entities.

That would be May 16.

“Everybody’s been waiting for the process to move forward so we could then do something about that,” said O’Connor, noting that a plan to “Save the Dome” had been simmering since 1998 with the predecessor of the Tuolumne County Arts Alliance, the Central Sierra Arts Council.

“We have all become old and gray waiting for this day to begin,” she said.

After the meeting, Gahagan said a nonprofit had not yet been formed, but it may be comprised of multiple, smaller county nonprofits cooperating for a similar goal.

But first the board must prioritize the submission of bids from Tier 1 Entities, which include low-income housing organizations, parks and recreation agencies, the Sonora Public Works Department and Sonora Elementary School.

After the end of February, the board will send out notices to Tier 2 entities, which include state education and regulatory agencies, the County of Tuolumne, the City of Sonora, and all the other school districts in the county.

Any of the included groups can make proposals to buy or lease the property at any price, but the prioritized bid process is not a commitment from the district to accept any of the offers before others are submitted.

Potential proposals are required to be made public at future board meetings.

Despite the time limits on official bids, Chabot recommended, “if you have an idea, bring it forward as soon as possible.”

Chabot added that the district has been negotiating with Habitat for Humanity for a tea and lunch party located in the upper level of the dome in October, and added, “hopefully that will get even more interest for the Dome,” he said.

Board member Jeff Nostrom also emphasized that a decision will have to come soon about the future of the dome so its preservation could be assured.

“It would be great if there could be some community uprising to save it and get the city and county behind us. I don’t know where it’s going to come from,” he said.

Some of the community comment on the future of the dome focused on the potential establishment of the Sonora Dome with the National Register of Historic Places, and using the potential tax benefits that accompany that designation to attract a buyer.

“In owning the dome you own a piece of our history,” historian Sharon Marovich said, noting that tax advantages to owning the property would be generous.

Zimmerly at first proposed the registration as a historic location, but added that additional safeguards might be necessary to preserve the unique exterior.

“It would be a good idea to get out in front of the whole issue and have the board get the credit,” he said.

Zimmerly added that it is “probably inevitable” that the dome will be saved, and that the public will likely engage in civil disobedience or protest to preserve the site.

“If people have to lie down in front of bulldozers, they might do it,” he said.

But some attempted to assert a more pragmatic evaluation of the site’s future, with Carol Doud noting that the district is “not in the preservation business,” but rather, in the “school business.”

“Someone needs to come in and write a check,” she said.

The board discussion also focused on the 138-acre Wildcat Ranch, which has still not been labeled surplus property.

Sonora High School agriculture teacher Stacey Ingalls and other speakers sought to emphasize the functions and boundless potential of the ranch to combat a potential sale or lease of the property.

A voice rang out right before the end of public comment to say, concisely, “Don’t sell!”

Ingalls said that over 100 chickens had just been raised on the property for a farm to table dinner, but the site had the potential to raise over 1,000 birds which could be sold at $20 each.

Her dream, she said, would be to plant trees that would produce enough funds to support a livestock program and property maintenance.

Chabot said he requested an appraisal of the property, but likely won’t know the value until the end of the month.

Former advisory committee member Kirsti Dyer said she hopes a cross country invitational event will still be allowed to proceed if the property is sold.

Later in the meeting, the board also approved a lease agreement with Jacob Gookin to allow additional cattle grazing on Wildcat Ranch.

Ingalls said eight heifers were located on the property, but the lack of rain had led to them eating through the vegetation in a meadow, and dry tree debris also posed a threat.

President Jeanie Smith recommended adding to future agendas a discussion of whether the new Sonora High School Aquatic Center will be available to the public over the upcoming summer.

The old Memorial Pool had been filled in with recycled dirt at a cost of $4,000, Chabot said earlier in the meeting.

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