A trustee of the Sonora Union High School District proposed Tuesday night that the City of Sonora sell a student parking lot located along School Street in order to facilitate available space for campus tennis courts.

“My contention is the parking lot on the other side of the street should be the high school’s,” board member Rob Lyons said at the board of trustees meeting Tuesday night. “I think that area should be owned by Sonora High because we are so landlocked for room.”

Lyons said a previous effort to inquire about the availability of the property, which is located across the street from Sonora High School on School Street, was spearheaded by former Superintendent Pat Chabot. Lyons said he had no contact with city officials but he was under the impression that there was no “intent” to sell the property. The high school leases the property for parking, he said.

Lyons asserted that the city of Sonora should also sell the property for a “reasonable amount of money” due to the spacing issues associated with the other proposed site for tennis courts, the old high school Memorial Pool.

The tennis courts were demolished to make way for the Dunleavy Field track and the Sonora Aquatic Center. The first year the Sonora High School tennis team practiced and had meets at Columbia College was the 2014-15 school year, which was also the first year the team participated in the Mother Lode League.

The board reviewed two schematics at the meeting. One showed three courts on the Memorial Pool site and four in the student parking lot. The other had an additional court on a staff parking lot adjacent to the Memorial Pool. The plans on the school parking lot appear to take up the parking on the lower tier of the parking lot, and not in an elevated section behind a fence.

In order for a high school to hold official matches, they must have a minimum of four tennis courts.

Despite the document review, the project was still described as cost prohibitive.

“Trying to fit courts over there is far less than ideal, I think, and fairly expensive,” Superintendent Dr. Mark Miller said of the Memorial Pool site.

Miller said the perimeter of the fields, with one side along School Street and another along Woods Creek, would create an “interesting scenario” for fencing and possibly exclude parents from watching the games. The project would likely level picnic tables and trees located beside the Memorial Pool, he said.

One member of the public recommended that tennis courts could be built in a field adjacent to Dario Cassina High School, but Miller cautioned that “it would still require some capital outlay to make that happen” but “all options were on the table.”

Lyons reinforced that the objective was to create a court system where students would not be required to use a bus or a car.

Lyons asked Miller to investigate possible options with the city as to the availability of the site.

“You probably don't want to spend a lot of money putting tennis courts on someone else's property,” Miller said.

The tennis program has about 25 to 30 students enrolled, with 14 students (seven boys and seven girls) playing in any given match.

A “Spotlight on Success” award was given to Janette Elsey, a Sonora High School bus driver who was credited with saving the lives of 25 Sonora High School junior varsity football players on Sept. 7 when she backed a bus off of train tracks away from an oncoming train.

“Making those decisions is not nearly as easy as sitting in this chair right now listening to a description knowing that you are safe and sound,” Miller said. “She did exactly what I think we expect bus drivers to do. That's a success.”

Elsey was emotional during her receipt of the certificate and reinforced her dedication to student safety and advocacy.

“You never know that you might be the only light in that child’s life,” she said. “You have an impact no matter how much you know it.”

In terms of campus surplus properties, Miller added that there was continued interest in the Sonora Dome and the Wildcat Ranch, but no definitive offers were made on either property.

A real estate agent representing Calvary Chapel in Sonora contacted him with interest about the dome, but like other inquiries, the primary obstacle to a proposal was the lack of available parking, he said.

Miller also added that he “had a great conversation with the ag community about Wildcat Ranch, talking about different possibilities about the ranch.”

Miller said he had also taken a meeting with the Park Foundation and noted that there was a high possibility that the property would eventually be segmented to reflect different interests.

“We will try to meet everybody’s need by making the property multi-use,” he said.

The 137-acre property was designated surplus property, but is still in Tier II and only available to public entities. An appraisal suggested a value of $820,000.

The district also approved financing for an upcoming $2.5 million campus improvement and energy-saving project to modernize the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in two campus buildings.

Miller said the site lease agreement, or a secured loan with collateral, would be supplied by ZBNA, parent company of California Bank and Trust, and would be at a 3.38 percent interest rate.

“It’s primarily so we can heat and cool our building,” he said. “Our kids deserve better than that.”

Jeff Proswimmer, a representative of Johnson Controls Inc., said the energy and operational savings associated with the project would be $234,000 annually over 15 years. The project is expected to be completed by the 2019-20 school year.

Vaccarezza said the district would pay about $234,000 each year on the loan. After the loan was paid off, Proswimmer said the school could expect $2.9 million in positive cash flow for energy savings on devices that have a lifespan of about 25 years.

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




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