The Sonora Union High School District is considering a summer lease and public use of the Sonora High School Aquatic Center to the Tuolumne County Parks and Recreation Department, but questions remain about terms of payment and accessibility of the pool during school hours.

On Tuesday night, Superintendent Pat Chabot addressed the “public interest in using the pool” by members of the public and Tuolumne County Parks and Recreation. About 25 people attended the meeting.

Chabot said discussions were continuing with Recreation Supervisor Eric Aitken to “coordinate open swim or lessons” after the students used it.

Community access to the pool during school hours creates problems, he said.

Chabot also addressed comparisons with the Bret Harte High School pool, which is located at an off-campus site.

“Our pool is right in the middle of our campus. It would be very difficult for community members to come into our facility to use our pool,” he said.

Chabot also added that the Memorial Pool, which was decommissioned on Aug. 1, 2017, was leased for $15,000 over the summer, but he was not sure about a price during the upcoming summer due to plans for a “simultaneous” use between high school sports and the public.

Sonora High School swimming and water polo coach Josh Martin said he supports community use of the pool and pushed back against the negative comments about the aquatic center.

The pool has been characterized as an expensive and gratuitous construction project while the district was mired in a financial crisis that mandated deficit spending, program cuts and staff layoffs.

“We’re seeing good growth within the program, we’re not just floating around in the pool,” Martin said, emphasizing that student participation in aquatic sports programs had increased in the past year.

“It is paying off,” he said. “The pool is here. We need to deal with it.”

The aquatic center was built after Sonora High School District voters approved the Measure J bond in November 2012, which issued a total of $23 million in general obligation bonds to finance the renovation of Sonora High School facilities. About $6 million was budgeted for the construction of the pool facility.

Nearly $500,000 was used from non-bond funds for the pool, a project expenditures report ending on Oct. 31, 2017 said.

“There is a negative stigma on the pool and no one wants to do something, nobody wants to touch it,” Martin said.

Board President Jeanie Smith suggested County Administrator Craig Pedro be involved in the discussions on pool use.

“Let’s get him in here, let’s have a chat,” she said.

On Tuesday, Pedro was identified on a board of supervisors agenda closed session item as negotiating with Chabot on the Sonora Dome property.

Chabot said after the meeting that he had not been in contact with Pedro regarding the dome property, and speculated that it was included on the agenda because the county had recently been given official notice about the property being declared surplus.

At the board meeting on Feb. 20, notices were sent to state education and regulatory agencies, the County of Tuolumne, the City of Sonora, and all the other school districts in the county.

Tier 2 submissions can be considered on March 17, 60 days after Tier 1 entity notices were sent out to low-income housing organizations, parks and recreation agencies, the Sonora Public Works Department and Sonora Elementary School when the board declared the dome surplus property.

Tier 3 entities, which include nonprofit organizations and all other public and private groups, can submit official bids for the property on May 16.
Any of the 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.
“We just don’t know what new information we will have each week,” Smith said.

Chabot also noted that he had met with Tuolumne County Arts Alliance Executive Director Lisette Sweetland regarding the dome, and said the TCAA was planning a 40th anniversary art auction at the location.

“If nothing else it will expose the dome to even more people,” he said.

The board has also not declared the 138-acre Wildcat Ranch, located at the corner of Tuolumne Road and Wards Ferry Road, surplus property. The district is waiting for an appraisal of the property, which will likely be available to be shared with the public in a week or two, Chabot said.

Chabot also acknowledged being issued a Freedom of Information Act request from a lawyer representing Ty Wivell, a district advisory board member, for documents regarding the sale and of the district Jamestown ag ranch and the eventual purchase of the Wildcat Ranch.

“Ty believes there is some kind of restrictions on what we can do with the property and the sales,” Chabot said, but noted “there are no restrictions on what we can do with the property.”

The 120-acre Jamestown agricultural campus, which housed pens, a barn with four wings, a full metal shop with a classroom, two portable classrooms and a total of four teachers, was sold to the Sonora Mine Co. for $2 million in 1984.

Wildcat Ranch was purchased in 1988 for about $750,000.

Chabot said the documents illuminated plans that never came to fruition.

“I found every indication that the ag. ranch was originally bought to be the new high school,” he said, with the current Sonora High School campus planned to be a junior high school.

Declining enrollment shuttered the projects, he said.

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