Sonoma school district approves high school stadium project

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, school district officials approved a $15 million sports complex for the high school, a project that has been in discussion for six years and subject to both applause and objection.

“This has been a very extensive process. This was not always a pre-destined thing to occur,” said John Kelly, president of the Board of Trustees for Sonoma Valley Unified School District.

Trustee Cathy Coleman said, “I’ve kind of agonized over this for a long time. This has been going on for so long. The issue has been hot on both sides. It’s been important to hear both sides.”

“My process has been pretty soul searching on this one,” she said.

The public’s comments during the meeting leaned heavily on the side that is in favor of the complex.

“We want for our kids so that it’s equitable to what all other high school kids have in Sonoma and other counties,” said parent Stephanie Jordan.

The complex calls for one baseball and two softball fields plus an open area, all with natural turf. A soccer/football field will be covered with artificial turf, bleacher seats for 1,000 home spectators, 300 seats for visitors, and the capacity to expand to 2,500 seats for events such as homecoming and graduation. In the center of the complex will be a building for concessions, team room, restrooms and storage.

The size of the complex, the artificial turf, and the priority and need are the points of contention for some community members.

The project will be paid for through Measure E funds, approved by voters in 2016.

Parent Celeste Winders said the sports complex was never included in the promotional flyers sent out by the district to voters and said the board is “not being good stewards of the money.” She said there is “a laundry list” of items that should be done before the sports complex.

“The stadium fell into the category of ‘would be nice,’” she said.

But Lori Winter sought to dispute and clarify that concept.

“This bond measure actually was developed for facilities improvements and upgrades that did include safe, warm and dry, that also included modernization and updating,” Winter said. “There’s nothing in the definition of this bond measure and its intent that would exclude these fields as upgrades for safety and modernization.”

And Stewart Saunders, a consistent vocal opponent of the complex who has voiced concern about several safety issues related to artificial turf added to his list the possibility of transference of COVID-19 through contact on the turf.

He has his own laundry list of reasons to use natural turf over artificial turf. Saunders argues that artificial turf, because it is made from a petroleum product, is a fire safety hazard and if burned it will release toxins. He also said more injuries occur on artificial turf because it doesn’t have the same ‘give’ as natural turf, and because it is made out of plastic it harbors bacteria. He has taken temperature readings on the artificial turf field at Adele Harrison Middle School and recorded excessive heat and has said student athletes are at risk of heat-related illness.

Luis Esteva Sueiro, the Student Voice who attends board meetings, said he believes the majority of students at Sonoma Valley High School are in favor of the complex.

“I want to reinforce the fact I’m not the student president, I’m the Student Voice and I believe 99% of the students say they want this field,” he said. Students are “tired of playing home games in Petaluma” because the school doesn’t have a home field.

“They want to show their Sonoma pride at their home” field and track, he saaid.

The coaches, teachers, parents and students who spoke during the board meeting echoed much of the same sentiment as Suerio, some saying the students “deserve” the new fields, and that “it is investment” in the kids of Sonoma.

In order to consider moving forward with the complex the district needed to meet CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) requirements, which it did, receiving approval on the Final Environmental Impact Review from the State Clearinghouse on Nov. 26.

Construction on the project will start this summer and is expected to be complete in the summer of 2021.

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