A new era dawns

After years of forced poverty, Butte College finally has the funds to realize its master plan

BUILDING UP <br>Butte College President Sandy Acebo and Mike Smith, program assistant at the Public Safety Training Center, are excited to see the Allied Health and Public Services building finally under construction. After decades of apologizing for the campus’ run-down, half-finished look, college leaders can soon be as proud of Butte’s appearance as its educational programs.

Butte College President Sandy Acebo and Mike Smith, program assistant at the Public Safety Training Center, are excited to see the Allied Health and Public Services building finally under construction. After decades of apologizing for the campus’ run-down, half-finished look, college leaders can soon be as proud of Butte’s appearance as its educational programs.

Photo by Tom Angel

Chico Checkpoint: The first church built in Chico still exists, though not in its original location. It’s the AME Methodist Church at the corner of East Ninth Street and Alder, but when it was built, in the 1860s, it was located downtown.

Chico Checkpoint: Don’t ever leave anything on your dashboard during a Chico summer. That goes for change, cassette tapes, concert tickets, chocolate pudding. Nothing can withstand the broiling temperatures. Can you smell what Chico is cooking?!

What does it say about a college that, in order to get to the meeting room where its trustees hold their all-important meetings, one has to walk through a staff kitchen? Or that the meeting room, like the rest of the college’s administrative offices, is located in a temporary building that resembles a large mobile home?

What does it say about a college that, since 1974, it has tripled its enrollment without building one new permanent classroom? That half its classes are taught in “temporary” structures that are more than 30 years old? And that these structures often leak when the rains fall? That some administrative offices are identified on blueprints as closets? And that many of its buses have logged over a million miles?

It says the college has been seriously underfunded for a long time.

And that, as they say, is the long and the short of it, the modern history of Butte Community College in a nutshell. This is a school that, after a promising beginning, ran out of money 30 years ago to do anything but just get by.

Fortunately, and finally, it’s all about to change, however. Last March, the district’s voters in Butte and Glenn counties resoundingly approved an $84 million bond measure. For the first time since 1974, the college will be able to make major, and permanent, improvements and additions to its facilities and equipment.

For everyone associated with the college, it’s truly the dawn of a new era. As Pat Blythe, executive director of the Butte College Foundation, puts it, “There is going to be a lot of excitement here over the next 10 years.”

Nothing epitomizes the three decades of enforced poverty Butte College has faced more than its aging fleet of buses.

The buses have always been an integral part of school life. From the beginning, the college’s rural location, on 900 acres of former grazing land midway between Chico and Oroville, has been premised on the availability of bus service to Chico, Oroville and Paradise.

In fact, Butte has the largest community college transportation system in California, logging 250,000 miles per year. “Some of these buses have over 1 million miles on their odometers,” said Facility Director Les Jauron. “They were built when Lyndon Johnson was president.”

With the bond money now available, that will change, and soon. Students can expect to see a new fleet of comfortable, fuel-efficient buses that will deliver them to a campus of brand-new, freshly painted buildings. The buses will roll into their terminal in the newly paved parking lots, and the students will study at an expanded and renovated library, get public safety training in their new state-of-the-art technical facilities, and be able to take classes at the sparkling new Chico Center, to be constructed from the ground up over the next two years.

The bond money, Blythe says, will pay for three phases of massive construction that will bring Butte College out of the 1970s and into the 21st century. The Butte Community College envisioned in its master plan for 2010 is a vast and much needed improvement, but some of the biggest changes may come remarkably soon.

“The focus is to improve structural facilities first,” he explains. “Mostly health and safety issues will come first, heating and air conditioning and simple structural problems like roof and termite repair. These new improvements will help save quite a bit on energy and repair costs. Our goals are to get rid of all our temporary buildings, and we’re trying to get right on it because the need is so great.”

The new buildings available to students over the next decade will include a new Allied Health and Public Service building, a Learning Resource Center, an Instructional Arts facility, a Student Services building and, as mentioned, a new Chico Center.

The first goal, however, is to improve or replace old lighting, roads, parking lots, walkways, fire alarms and the buses.

“It’ll be nice to have something new; it’s about time,” said one driver named Marty. “My bus was built in 1981. The students rely on our transportation to get out here, and if it wasn’t available they couldn’t go to school. The new buses burn cleaner, they are more economic, more fuel-efficient and … well, they are more comfortable.”

The next improvement on Butte College’s master plan—and possibly the most impacted area—will be the school’s vocational and training programs. The college trains more firefighters, police officers and nurses than any other institution in the area.

“These will be our first new buildings in 20 years,” says Mike Smith, program assistant for the Public Safety Training Center. “Our Law Enforcement Academy is thought by many to be best in the state, and this money will help our programs by leaps and bounds. With this we can augment our Cadet Academy, even provide advanced officer training for area police officers who have to brush up on things.

“We are building a new EVOC [emergency vehicle operations course] track for practice with high-speed maneuvering,” he adds. “Right now our fire training program isn’t up to code. When we need to start a fire we take old furniture and brush and light it.”

Smith says the new fire tower will be safer and more technologically advanced and lockers will be available.

“We’re very excited about the money provided by the state,” he says. “We’ll have new rooms and possibly individual laptops for the students. Public safety training plans for mass disasters—now we can actually visualize a problem and then get up and go try it.”

The new Allied Health and Public Services building will be completed this November, the EVOC track in fall 2003 and the fire tower a year after that. The new Allied Health building will be a state-of-the-art public service training center that will greatly improve facilities for nursing programs and even provide a “mock courtroom” for Administration of Justice trainees.

Another exciting expectation is the new and permanent Chico Center. This 40,000-square-foot, $14.3-million building will be located between Wittmeier Auto Center and Lowe’s home improvement store on Forest Avenue. The building will be ready for occupancy by late 2004, will house a computer lab, bookstore and virtual library and promises a beautiful view of the foothills.

This will make life much easier for the 40 percent of the student population that attends classes in the present cramped Chico Center on Parmac Drive.

Further down the road will come the new Instructional Arts building for performance and fine arts classes as well as a music hall, gallery, interior- and fashion design labs, set and costume constructing areas and a full proscenium theater and convention center, if private donations can be raised. The Student Services Area will include student-friendly, mall-style buildings with expanded meeting rooms and offices and will be completed and ready to go by 2009.

Still, the bond measure isn’t the cure-all to Butte College’s problems. An upcoming statewide higher-education bond may provide the last of the funding needed to complete Butte College’s master plan for 2010. The majority of that funding will go to building a new Learning Resource Center to improve humanities and social studies programs, establish a Center for Academic Success for remedial and tutoring services, new computer labs, room for programs that are currently taking space in the library, and more office space. The date to occupy this building is unsure because of the time needed for approval by the state architect and uncertainty about whether the bond will pass.

Regardless, the Butte Community College of 2010 will be a much different facility than the one today. The projected enrollment for then is 21,500 students.

“We have to prepare for the next tidal wave,” Blythe says. “The children of the baby boomers are growing up. We’re fortunate we have the legislators we have; they have helped us out a lot. Mainly the most important goal for us and the most important part of campus is to have a pleasant environment conducive to learning.”

Next: Coffee break