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Rancho Cotate's new gym in spotlight as basketball tournament host

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It was cozy. It had personality. If that were the language of real estate sales, it would not translate into “nice.”

Rancho Cotate High School’s 50-year-old gymnasium was assuredly past its prime.

But this week, a whole new audience of high school sports fans will step foot in the Rohnert Park school’s fancy new $52 million theater, arts and gym building as the North Bay League basketball tournament finals tip off.

The 75,000-square-foot TAG building — which stands for Theater-Academics-Gymnasium — opened for classes and other events last spring and hosts the Oak and Redwood division championship games Friday and Saturday.

“We were probably one of the least attractive places to go play a game,” Assistant Principal Henri Sarlatte said, adding that the old place had its charm.

“But definitely this is night and day ahead of what we had. There are a lot of nice gyms around here ... But we’re the new one, the new car everyone wants to ride in.”

The 40,000-square-foot gym portion of the building — named after Sarlatte’s father, Henry, a former teacher and athletic director at the school — holds about 2,500 fans in the bleachers, more than Haehl Pavilion at Santa Rosa Junior College or the Wolves’ Den at Sonoma State University.

It also has a 250-seat performing arts theater, weight room, dance studio, recording studio, three computer labs, a coding classroom, band classroom, performers’ green room, locker rooms, a spacious lobby, concession stand and offices.

Funded by two school district facility bonds, including $42 million from an $80 million bond that voters approved in 2014 and $10 million from a bond offering approved in 2016, the structure came to fruition last year after decades of dreaming.

Along with stellar new athletic facilities, the building allowed the school to offer modern new academic concentrations: law and justice; film; computer science; sports careers; and biomedical sciences.

While the gym may see its biggest crowds during the basketball league finals, it’s hosted some other large events already.

Last Saturday, Rancho hosted the North Coast Section dual meet wrestling championships.

“It ran without a hitch,” Sarlatte said. “We were able to get five mats in there. We probably could have fit a couple more if we had to.”

Having a state-of-the art facility allows the school to host larger, regional events, which bring income through concessions and tournament fees.

The schools has been able to hold NCS and CIF football and soccer games at the Cougar stadium, but now other sports and other events can be hosted inside.

“We can host wrestling, basketball, volleyball. It opens up those opportunities for use for all kinds of things,” Sarlatte said.

He ran three volleyball tournaments in the fall and now other schools and private volleyball organizations are interested, he said. A boys tournament will be held this spring.

A 16-team freshman basketball tournament Sarlatte has organized for several years had previously been held at two different campuses for space reasons.

“Now we have both gyms, so we can have it all at one school, the old gym and the new gym,” he said, joking that some athletes wondered why they still had to play in the old space. “If you win, you get to the play in the new gym. That’s incentive.”

Also good motivation is the big-time atmosphere, helped by a state-of-the-art sound system and a four-sided scoreboard above center court — similar to those at Golden State Warriors games or arena concerts.

“We have all the bells and whistles. It’s pretty cool,” Sarlatte said. “We also have scoreboards on every wall. It’s set up so you can drop drapes over them and run smaller events.”

Rohnert Park’s central location, too, is an attraction for schools in high school championship games and other sports organizations.

School officials expect use of the gym and other facilities will keep growing as more people see the possibilities.

“When you build these kinds of things, people reach out to you,” Sarlatte said.

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