Some Sonora High School officials are pushing for the installation of tennis courts on the campus to replace those removed by the construction of the Sonora Aquatic Center, but Superintendent Mark Miller has cautioned that no project would be possible without available funds or a determination of a proper campus location.
“Realistically, until we get things sorted out and get a bottom line and any capital, I just don't see tennis courts happening on our site in the near future,” he said.
The item will still be up for discussion at the board of trustees meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The item was requested to be a permanent fixture on the board agenda, alongside The Sonora Dome and the Wildcat Ranch, by board member Kimberly Norton during the Sept. 4 board meeting.
“We removed them, so we should replace them,” Norton said, and noted that she had brought up the item for discussion during multiple meetings.
“Our students deserve to have tennis courts. They shouldn't have to go to the college. We should be providing something that we have taken away,” she said.
Sonora High School tennis coach Sam Segerstrom echoed Norton’s recommendation by recalling his time as a Sonora High School tennis player on the school campus before his graduation in 2006.
“Having the campus presence is huge for the kids. They are on campus with people that can watch their matches and don't have to drive anywhere. When you don't have to drive somewhere and when you don't have to drive to practice, that's just really helpful,” he said.
Segerstrom has been the coach of the Sonora High School tennis team since the 2014-15 school year, a transformative moment in the history of the program.
The 2014-15 school year was the first year the team participated in the Mother Lode League, he said, and a formerly divided boys and girls team was combined into a co-ed program.
That year was also the first that the Sonora High School tennis team did not have tennis courts available for practice or match play on campus, he said.
The campus originally had four courts (plus an additional fifth court perpendicular to the four courts that was covered by a portable), Segerstrom said, that were removed during campus construction of bond projects, primarily the Sonora Aquatic Center, but also the track complex.
Now, the tennis program has about 25 to 30 students enrolled, with 14 students (seven boys and seven girls) playing in any given match, he said.
Despite the practice sessions and match play held at the Columbia College campus, he added, the Sonora High School tennis team won league and lost in the section finals to Placer High School last year.
“I think it's quite remarkable from not having courts on campus,” he said. “Not seeing any students see us practice is a disadvantage. We just don't have a campus presence. Some people don’t even know we have a team.”
Segerstrom said building at least four tennis courts on the site of the former Sonora High School Memorial Pool and parking lot area would reinstate the district’s commitment to the program and alleviate the difficulties of student transportation to Columbia College.
Segerstrom said a private company could build the courts and accompanying lights at about $80,000 each or $320,000 total, but recalled that former Superintendent Pat Chabot estimated the cost at about $500,000.
Miller declined to speculate on the cost since he had not “seen any formal bids or ground samples or where they might put them,” he said.
“The fact of the matter is the area Sonora High sits on has been developed commercially for over 100 years. To guess as to how much that would cost without actually having the work done is very premature.”
Any location on the campus where tennis courts were proposed would likely include a “ground prep” or remediation, he said.
During a “cursory look” of available land on campus, there wasn’t any location where more than two to three tennis courts could fit, he said.
Three courts would be a “squeeze” on the former pool site and they would also border a street and an “environmentally sensitive creek,” he said.
In order to have a sanctioned league match there needed to be at least four courts. All other schools in the Mother Lode League have at least four or five courts on their campus, Segerstrom said.
“I think tennis is a great sport. It's a lifelong sport and it has a high interest in California because of the weather and the ability to play it most of the year outdoors,” Miller said.
Having the courts would be “ideal,” he added, and it would be kept as a consistent discussion item if board members willed it.
Despite the complications, Segerstrom said he believed the project was still possible. It costs between $3,000 and $4,000 a year to rent the courts from Columbia College, he said.
“It’s a huge benefit to the kids but also the community. Not having to rent courts from the college and not having to deal with travel logistics to go to practice or to a match is going to grow out the team and give us more practice time. The kids are going to win in the end.”