The Coyote soccer team practices on the new campus of the Sonoma Academy where student tuition is $29,000 per year.

Classes set to begin Sept. 9 at not-quite-finished campus near Kawana Springs Road

Sonoma Academy sophomore Simon Tatone, training with teammates for the upcoming high school cross country season, almost did not have to leave campus to get in a long run.

"This place reminds me of a city, it's so big. I'm really excited," he said, sitting in the shade of the private school's new gymnasium and student dining room Wednesday.

For the past seven years, the independent private school shared space at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts. Sports teams had no home gym and hallway space was often shared with people coming to and from public events, like wedding expos.

On Sept. 9, Sonoma Academy's 214 students will open the school year on their new campus -- 34 acres off Kawana Springs Road on the western side of Taylor Mountain, overlooking south Santa Rosa.

"We finally have our own place," said senior Sally Williams. "It's also a little shocking."

The massive project has been a long time coming for the school that began with 45 eighth- and ninth-graders in 2001 and has since graduated five classes. The school now has 214 students.

Tuition is $29,000 a year -- by far the highest in the county -- but Head of School Janet Durgin said nearly 50 percent of students receive financial aid.

The site, bordered on two sides by publicly owned grasslands and neighboring Colgan Creek, was donated to Sonoma Academy by Kendall-Jackson founder Jess Jackson and his wife, Barbara Banke, after they purchased it in 2000.

The start of the year likely will be a little unsettling for the more than 200 students and 20 teachers, as crews scramble to finish the $35 million campus.

The library and many classrooms -- including physics, math, biology and chemistry rooms -- are housed in buildings that suffered construction delays and won't be open when students return for the first day of class.

Construction remains in full swing as the library and several classroom buildings are wrapped in exposed yellow sheathing while crews operate power tools.

Four portable trailers will house eight classrooms when school starts, and the dance studio and weight rooms will house classes until a permanent space is finished.

"We're smooshed, so any available space will have classrooms," said Durgin. "But we are just kind of walking on air . . . this is just a miracle." The goal had been to have the first phase of the project completed by the start of the school year, but 16 of 22 planned classrooms are not finished.

"These are complex buildings," Durgin said. "In the end, there is some inconvenience, some additional expense, but we think there is some benefit to students coming back and not seeing a beautiful, complete building."

Sophomore Clio Wilde said she was shocked when she showed up on campus this week for volleyball tryouts.

"Last time I was here, there was just frames of buildings. It's so exciting, all this new stuff," she said.

For the first time, teammates won't have to travel in vans to practice at other schools' gyms, she said.

Athletic director Chris Ziemer said for Sonoma Academy students to have a gym, lockers and facilities of their own goes further than fostering a so-called home-field advantage.

"We want to establish a tradition that will be permanent," he said.You can reach Staff Writer Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat


Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

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