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Jason Walsh: Some still not convinced on stadium

To put it in athletic terms: School district officials are trying to score an 80-yard touchdown, while some district residents would prefer they punt.

That’s the situation surrounding the proposed sports stadium at Sonoma Valley High School – a 2,500 seat facility that would include an eight-lane track, an all-weather athletic field, lights and bleachers. Some put the price tag for the stadium shy of $10 million. Construction of such a facility would take more than two years to complete.

The stadium sits atop the district’s master list of priorities at the high school – a list that also includes, in order: a new pool, modernizing the science wing, building an athletic training center, a new two-story classroom building, a new quad and a performing arts facility. Master plans will be a topic on July 10 when district officials again meet to review campus spending priorities.

While the SVHS sports boosters understandably applaud the lofty place the stadium occupies atop the list, others remain unconvinced – they’re unclear why modernizing the science wing and building new classrooms are third and fifth, respectively.

Opponents of the stadium plan are varied, but it’s safe to say some of the more vocal critics are neighboring homeowners concerned about lights, traffic and noise around their properties. But other skeptics aren’t as easy to dismiss: families who don’t have kids in high-school sports programs and district households with no children at all may still see the benefit of financially supporting a robust local education system, but simply don’t see how that is linked to the success of the soccer program.

It requires solid reasoning why, for instance, a football team receives priority over a forensics team – and in that debate some still say the district has fumbled.

But there are strong arguments why new and improved athletic digs are perfectly reasonable, and perhaps even necessary – but the message hasn’t entirely gotten through.

For instance, the track at the school is in such poor condition the track team can’t host meets. And with the boys soccer season moving to winter, having an all-weather field becomes necessary for home matches. The baseball teams, meanwhile, have to play a mile up the road at Arnold Field – rendering even their home games as semi-away games. The majority of high schools in the North Bay have their own sports facilities – some new and state of the art. Sonoma Valley can’t go on forever living as sports-field renters; at some point it’s gotta buy. May as well be now, say some, because it’ll cost a heck of a lot more three, five, 10 years down the line.

Noise-wary neighbors may never buy-in. But if this was sellable – and perhaps it is – district officials should have sold it to more of the skeptics by now.

And yet, even after the recent passage of the $120 million school bond to improve campus facilities, some Measure E supporters are scratching their heads about the stadium.

The stadium was first a hot topic in 2015, as district officials initially floated the idea of a $1.7 million turf field, $1 million all-weather track, $400,000 for basketball courts and another $2 million for fences, gates and utilities – and then put the idea aside when reaction was lukewarm.

Throughout last year’s Measure E campaign to raise tax funds for school facilities, it was all about “safe, warm and dry.”

And that’s why some voters are asking for a better explanation as to why the stadium is now a higher priority than the science wing.

School officials probably feel like they’re going blue in the face in presenting their master-plan reasoning time and again. But as they draw closer to final approval of the campus plans later this summer, it’s worth another try.

The skeptics deserve that much.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.