Butte College’s renovated library is finally open—and worth the wait
When Brianna Luce attended orientation at Butte College two years ago, one of the things she noticed was the campus library. She’s scarcely been able to use it, though, or the adjacent open space she saw as a gathering point for students at the commuter community college.
While its original location was undergoing a complete renovation and expansion, the Butte College Library operated from a nearby makeshift facility. About 12,000 square feet of portable buildings housed the main book collection.
“I didn’t know we still had a library,” Luce recalled, until she found it had been “broken up into portables” that didn’t offer everything she’d seen during her new-student tour. In tight quarters, students vied for time on eight research computers, study space and even breathing room.
“It was a crowded feeling,” Luce said, referring both to the temporary structures and the field they encroached on. “That area wasn’t nice. When we toured the school, there was a library and a nice field there. All those portables diminished the area to sit, hang out and meet friends. And it’s not like you had a lot of space to study.”
Shirleigh Brannon, a Butte College librarian, recalled struggling to communicate with other library staff members in the separate portables, as well as the messy process of carting books in and out of the units during bad weather. And there were personal considerations as well.
“There were no bathrooms,” said Brannon. “We had the steps measured to the nearest restrooms.”
Students and librarians who endured those long 16 months of construction have finally received a nearly $20 million state-of-the-art facility. The building opened its doors for the first time Monday (Aug. 20) as the campus began its fall semester.
Returning students probably won’t notice much of a difference when facing the front of the library, as the building’s facade remains relatively unchanged.
After passing through the main entrance onto the second floor, visitors will find the reference material and periodicals area. Before construction, this level held the main collection among cramped aisles intermingled with bustling study areas. This floor is now also home to 75 computer research stations, an enclosed computer lab and a fully furnished teachers lounge.
Perhaps the library’s most impressive feature is its third floor, where students used to take classes. Renovated to hold the main collection, the level now holds rows of books in spacious aisles and features private study rooms instead of classrooms.
“Instead of everything being crammed together, now you have space,” said Kimberley Jones, assistant facilities planning director. “Now they actually have the books where the librarians are at.”
The first floor of the facility holds the Media and Distance Learning Center and the 32,000-square-foot expansion, where 13 new classrooms and a television control room and studio can be found.
An impressive sight, the renovation would not have been possible without the support of Butte and Glenn County residents. Measure A—approved in 2002 by voters in those communities—dedicated millions of dollars to upgrade the college’s facilities.
The new library exceeds the California Energy Commission’s stringent guidelines regarding energy conservation by 29 percent—a significant feat, according to Mike Miller, Butte College’s facilities director. In addition, the building holds many sustainable features such as partially recycled carpet, recycled furniture and non-toxic adhesives.
The library’s renovation and expansion is just one of several strides the campus has made since voters approved the $85 million bond measure, which also qualified Butte for matching state funds of about 50 percent, adding $50 million to the college’s project coffers.
“I think we’re on track to keeping the promise of Measure A,” said Miller, during a recent tour of the facility.
In the five years since the measure’s passage, Butte College has completed two new major buildings on the main campus, as well as the Chico Center, a 54,000-square-foot facility located on Forest Avenue in Chico. The bond funds have also helped pay for upgrades on existing facilities and other pending projects, such as a highly anticipated 72,000-square-foot Instructional Arts building.
The beauty of the recent surge in development may be the way in which the college’s facilities department managed the construction process. Normally, a general contractor is hired and then bids subcontractors to do the work. Butte College took a different approach by hiring its own subcontractors. At least half of the bids were awarded to nearby businesses, pumping money back into the local economy.
"[We did] all the planning and programming in-house,” Miller explained. “It made it a collaborative project.”
This approach was showcased during a two-day sustainability conference held the first weekend of August at the main campus. The goal was to spread the message to other facilities planners around the state that these projects can be realized on time and on budget, Miller said.
About 200 people from 50 colleges and universities, along with industry professionals and city planners, attended the event, which also highlighted the benefits of sustainable construction methods.
“The conference opened up people’s eyes,” Miller said. “To me, that was a win right there.”
But the biggest winners are the students, who will benefit most from the modern facility.
Before construction began, surveys allowed students to give input on what they thought the library needed most. Feedback resulted in a push for more computers and additional study areas.
“The students really got what they wanted,” said Brannon, the librarian. “It’s gonna be a very positive thing, this growth.”
CN&R Editor Evan Tuchinsky contributed to this story.