Formative years

Butte College, institution of growth, marks 50th anniversary

President Samia Yaqub, left, and Vice President Allen Renville have witnessed much of Butte College’s decades-spanning expansion.

President Samia Yaqub, left, and Vice President Allen Renville have witnessed much of Butte College’s decades-spanning expansion.

Photo by Josh Cozine

Event info:
Butte College celebrates its 50th anniversary on Saturday (Sept. 16) at the main campus, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., with free buses from Chico, Oroville and Paradise. Visit or call 895-2324 for details.

Over the 50 years that Butte College has become increasingly prominent in Butte and Glenn counties, few have witnessed the institution’s growth more closely than Allen Renville.

Renville, now vice president for student services, started his 42-year career with the college in 1975—the year after Butte moved to its permanent location in the foothills between Chico, Paradise and Oroville.

“When I first walked on campus, there were only six or seven buildings here,” he said, noting that many of the offices and classrooms were still run out of portable units.

In his first years, he said, “it kind of looked like a college—now there are only three portables left, and they will be gone with the next rendition of the bond,” he said, referring to Measure J, passed last year, which will provide the community college with $190 million for construction that Renville said is already planned as far as 15 years out.

The college—whose expansion includes campuses in Chico and Orland—will commemorate its changes on Saturday (Sept. 16) with a 50th anniversary event. (See box.)

Construction has been a constant part of the reality for the growing college, whose landscape has changed drastically since Renville’s first days. Pointing through the windows to the building across from his office—located on the ground floor of the Campus Center—he detailed a few of the changes during his time.

“Where the Student Administrative Services building is now used to be a lot that had some big tires in it that had ivy growing out—that was our deluxe landscaping,” Renville said with a laugh. “The greenscapes here now [and] all the solar panels are new.”

People who return to the campus tell him, “It actually looks like a college now.”

Samia Yaqub, college president and superintendent of the Butte-Glenn Community College District, finds the changes just as remarkable.

“It’s amazing to think that 50 years ago there was no Butte College,” she said.

Yaqub started her career at Butte as an assistant instructor in 1984—teaching developmental writing, reading and English as a second language—and recalls how the campus had “no Veterans’ Center, no Safe Place, no Culture and Community Center, no food pantry.” The college now offers those and other services.

Yaqub also recalls many of the buildings being constructed, notably the Allied Health Building, the Child Development Center and the arts building. She also reflected on problems that arose with older, lesser facilities, such as when she was a dean working out of makeshift administration office.

“Admin was in a portable near the bus area,” she explained. “We would go into a board meeting and it would smell, and we would find out there had been skunks under the building!”

Student Administration Services is now in a permanent location, in one of the largest buildings on campus.

Along with the physical changes, both Yaqub and Renville say they’ve also seen Butte College’s reach grow.

“If you get into a group of a hundred peopleand I always do this when I’m speaking to groups[and ask], ‘How many of you have been in Butte, or had someone you know go to Butte?’’ Renville said, “90 percent will raise their hands.”

Yaqub, too, says she asks how many people have connections to the college whenever she speaks in the community, and there’s always a huge audience response.

Renville also spoke to the importance of the college to the local economy.

“It generates a tremendous amount of dollars for local economic viability,” he said. “We have $50 million in financial aid that comes into this campus. That is spread out with our students in housing, entertainment, food, leisure activitiesit’s an economic engine for the community.”

The administrators both foresee Butte College becoming an even larger presence in the local community over the next 50 years.

“We plan a long ways in advance,” Renville said, “and a lot of our planning is around, ‘What will this community want? What will future employers want as far as training options and opportunities?’ So we’re always looking at offering new skills and types of programs.”

Butte College will continue to be a “very important part of the local community,” Yaqub said on her predictions for the next 50 years.

Said Yaqub: “The economy is changing, jobs are changing, technology is changing, our lives are changing, and people are going to continue to need more elevated skills.”