For the records

Warehouse in the works for county documents

Butte County Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs stands among the stacks of documents, many of historical significance, that she hopes will be housed in a new county hall of records.

Butte County Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs stands among the stacks of documents, many of historical significance, that she hopes will be housed in a new county hall of records.

photo by Ken SMith

For decades, thousands of Butte County’s priceless historical documents have sat, sometimes with inadequate protection from the elements, in far-flung locales ranging from the basements of county buildings to a now-demolished warehouse on the Chico State campus. County Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs hopes that will change soon with the construction of a long-sought-after hall of records.

“This has been about 10 years in the making,” Grubbs said during a recent tour of a warehouse near the county social welfare complex off of Table Mountain Boulevard in Oroville, where many of the documents are currently being collected, catalogued, digitized and restored.

“The first facilities plan by an outside contractor determined the county’s first building priority back then should be a hall of records,” she explained. “In addition to being a place for all these documents, it gets us [the county clerk’s office] out of the county administration building and will allow other departments room to expand into that space, which extends the life of that building.”

The county is vetting a lowest viable bid from Chico contractor BCM Construction Co. Inc. Grubbs said that, if all the numbers add up correctly and the bid passes muster from county counsel and is approved by a Board of Supervisors vote, groundbreaking on the project could start as early as June, and the building could be completed by May 2015.

The proposed building would be approximately 35,000 square feet and stand on the now-vacant lot at the southeast corner of Nelson Avenue and Second Street in Oroville. Grubbs said the building would cost about $7.5 million plus another $2 million for land and other expenses. Most of the construction would be funded by an $8 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Grubbs said the loan would be repaid through a combination of county funds and fees gathered through recorder’s services, such as copies of birth and death certificates.

Grubbs said that, in addition to serving as a safe depository for important documents generated by the clerk-recorder and other county offices office since 1850, it will also serve as the county’s election headquarters, with secure areas for ballots and storage for other voting equipment. She also said it is designed with public convenience in mind, offering computer workstations and automated systems to streamline the department’s services and aid in historical research.

In anticipation of moving into the proposed building, work is already being done to save the aging documents. At the clerk’s office, employees have begun converting old microfiche reels into a keyword-searchable digital format. The county also has hired a project manager, Melinda Rist, to inventory, clean, reorganize and digitally convert an estimated 2,000 books and ledgers, 18,000 maps and countless loose papers in the Oroville warehouse.

It’s a tough job, but not one without rewards for Rist, herself a history buff who previously worked at the Chico Museum.

“I’ve found lots of interesting things, plenty of documents signed by John and Annie Bidwell and other historical figures that made Butte County what it is,” Rist said. Among her prized finds—so far—is a document stating the official count during Bidwell’s 1892 bid for U.S. presidency on the Prohibition ticket (“He didn’t get very many votes,” Rist said with a laugh) and a week-long reprieve from the hangman’s noose for one John Greer, signed by then-Gov. Leland Stanford on March 22, 1863.

She also is entering all of the information, by hand, into a computer system called CuadraSTAR, which will make the documents searchable. This service isn’t expected to be launched until the move in order for the database to build up enough information, and she said archiving all of the documents will take many years. As she is shouldering the bulk of this work alone, she is actively seeking volunteers to help with data entry.

There are still a number of hurdles before ground is broken on the building. An earlier bid from Chico contractor Slater and Son Inc. was slated for a supervisors vote on May 6, but fell through. Grubbs said there’s no way the board will vote on the new bid that soon, but expects it will be ready in the next month.

The hall of records also has become somewhat of a political issue, with Pamela Teeter—who is running against Grubbs for her seat—questioning both its need and the cost at an April 24 candidates’ forum hosted by the Butte County League of Women Voters.

Grubbs contends the building is badly needed, and that it’s a bargain at less than $300 per square foot and has already been downsized from the 45,000 square feet recommended by the decade-old facilities plan.

“I hope we won’t have outgrown it by the time we move in,” she said.