Career opportunities

Butte College proposes $190 million bond measure to bolster vocational programs and improve infrastructure

Butte College welding program chair Don Robinson (right, pictured with instructor Miles Peacock) said the program has a two-year waiting list.

Butte College welding program chair Don Robinson (right, pictured with instructor Miles Peacock) said the program has a two-year waiting list.

Photo by Ken Smith

The welding technology program at Butte College offers students the opportunity to acquire the necessary skills and certification to land a high-paying job just one year out of high school. However, with just 50 slots available each fall, it’s an opportunity available only to the few who plan ahead.

“The waiting list right now is two years,” said Don Robinson, chair of the college’s welding program, during a recent visit to the welding and manufacturing building on Butte College’s main campus. “If students aren’t on our radar by the time they’re juniors in high school, then they’re kind of lost. It’s really tough for them to come out as seniors and say they want to take welding here, because there just isn’t any room.”

Robinson said the program doubled its enrollment about 10 years ago, and is in need of doing so again. He also said students could benefit from new facilities and upgraded equipment, as some of the department’s machinery is decades old. The college has plans to to expand and upgrade the welding program and make other campus improvements, but the plans are contingent on voter approval of a $190 million education bond.

The Butte College board of trustees voted unanimously last month to put the bond measure—dubbed the Butte College Repair, Safety, Job Training Measure—on November’s general election ballot in both Butte and Glenn counties. It is subject to a comprehensive 55 percent voter-approval threshold.

“Last spring and summer, we did a lot of community outreach, giving presentations and conducting surveys to find out what the community thought our priorities should be,” Butte College President Samia Yaqub said last week regarding how the bond came to be. She said about 70 percent of those surveyed during outreach efforts also said they would support such a measure.

“What they told us, and we agree with, is that providing vocational education to prepare people for jobs is important,” Yaqub said. “[We need to focus on] careers like nursing, law enforcement and those kinds of programs where people can go through in two years and come out with certification or degrees that can lead to high-paying jobs for which there is significant demand. In addition to working on those career pathways, we also need to be sure our students headed on [to four-year schools] are properly prepared to transfer.”

In addition to bolstering education and vocational programs, funds would be used for new construction—including a new home for the welding department and replacing outdated classrooms and laboratories—and to overhaul aging infrastructure at the main campus. Yaqub noted Butte College will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, and has been at its current site since the mid-1970s. Much of the school’s facilities have not been updated in that time.

The construction of Butte College’s Chico Center was funded by a 2002 bond measure.

Photo by Ken Smith

“We have a lot of old gas lines, water lines, electrical wiring and things like that that need to be replaced,” Yaqub said, noting larger enrollment also necessitates upgrades. She said the campus was designed when there were only about 6,000 students. The school serves about 17,000 now.

The last time Butte College initiated a bond measure was in 2002, when voters passed Measure A, an $84.9 million general obligation bond to construct, repair and equip classrooms, labs and other facilities.

Les Juaron, the school’s vice president of planning, research and organizational development, outlined some of the improvements made with those funds. He said the college was able to use the funding to leverage another $70 million in state dollars, much of which was put toward a half-dozen large construction projects: the school’s Chico Center; the Allied Health and Public Services Center (home of the nursing, police and fire programs); Learning Resource Center and library expansion; Arts building; Student and Administrative Services building; and renovation of the Campus Center.

“Before we built those new facilities, we had a lot of programs that had expanded in mobile classrooms,” Juaron said. “It looked like we had a bunch of trailer parks on campus.”

Juaron said spending the Measure A money was overseen by a citizens’ oversight committee, and that a similar committee will be formed to monitor the new bond if voters approve it. The bond also has an accountability provision that ensures money can’t be spent on administrators’ salaries or pensions.

Measure A funding also went toward installing the school’s 25,000-plus solar panels, Juaron said. In 2011, Butte became the first college in history to reach grid-positive status—meaning the school can generate more electricity than it uses.

The college’s president also noted bond funds would be used to support a growing segment of the student population: veterans.

“We’ve found we have an increasing number of veterans returning to school, and that’s something schools are seeing across the country,” Yaqub said. “In 2008, we started a Veterans Resource Center where they could find camaraderie and support for mental health, emotional and academic needs.

“It was the first of its kind and has served as great model for other programs, but it’s also in an old portable. We’d really like to get it into a permanent facility.”