On solid ground

Butte College to open sparkling new Chico facility by early 2005

AUTO ROW? <br>With Wittmeier Auto Center as neighbor, Butte College is set to start construction of its new Chico Center by late next year.

With Wittmeier Auto Center as neighbor, Butte College is set to start construction of its new Chico Center by late next year.

Photo by Tom Angel

State if disbelief: Butte College’s Chico facility will be the first major state-funded construction since the campus opened in 1974.

After more than a decade of short-term leases and scattered classrooms, Butte College has finally found a permanent home for its Chico campus.

Construction of a new $14.3 million facility is set to begin in the fall of 2003. It will replace the current Chico Center on Cohasset Road. It will also give the community college the option of consolidating some of its other locations in Butte County, which include Chico High School and Pleasant Valley High School.

The new facility is the first major project paid for by Measure A, the $85 million Butte College bond measure that district voters approved in the March election. The measure, which needed only 55 percent of the votes to pass, received 66 percent.

But the process of buying the land dates back even further. The college spent a great deal of time just trying to find space that was not only affordable, but also in an area that had infrastructure already in place. Eventually it was decided that an 11-acre lot on Forest Avenue between Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse and Wittmeier Auto Center fit the criteria, and the land was purchased two years ago for around $2 million.

Pat Blythe, executive director of institutional development for Butte College, said the new location is optimal because of its visibility and accessibility. The current Chico Center has been in use for more than a decade and sits tucked away next to a health club. The new facility will be easily visible from Highway 99 and just a rock’s toss from the Skyway exit.

“We wanted good access to transportation,” Blythe said. “Transportation is such an important part of what we offer students.”

The 50,000-square-foot complex will dwarf the current building and will provide students with more opportunities to take classes in Chico rather than having to make the 12-mile trek out to the main campus.

Les Jauron, director of facilities planning and management for Butte College, said this is especially beneficial to those students who take night classes. He said that while the main campus enjoys a steady flow of students between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., enrollment in night classes is almost non-existent. Jauron attributes this to the fact that prospective students just don’t want to make the drive at night if they don’t have to.

“Most students who take night classes work all day,” he said. “It’s really a matter of convenience.”

Jauron also said that when the new facility opens in early 2005, it should be operating at close to capacity from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and like any thriving business it will ultimately benefit the community by bringing in more revenue.

“It’s a very exciting opportunity for the college and the community,” he said.

Forest Avenue is a strip chockablock with successful businesses. Retail giant Wal-Mart is there, as is Lowe’s. The Wittmeier Auto Center has been a fixture since 1991, and General Manager Wayne Wittmeier has seen the area grow from next to nothing into a muscular retail center.So how will the new Butte College facility fit into the scheme of things? Wittmeier welcomes the addition and thinks it will benefit business rather than hinder it. “It creates traffic,” he said. “It will be a nice addition to the area.”

Butte College President Sandra Acebo said the new facility looks to be an attractive piece of the puzzle. She said that not only will the inside be better equipped to suit students’ needs, but the exterior also will be aesthetically pleasing and offer plenty of parking with good lighting.

“It’s just going to be an attractive learning environment,” Acebo said.

There are nine classrooms and two computer labs in the current Cohasset location. The new two-story building will be equipped with 19 classrooms of various sizes, five computer labs with approximately 30-35 computers in each and an art lab. A tutoring center and child development training facility for those looking to become care providers will also be provided. And an expansive community room will provide space for meetings, with the possibility of having non-school-related functions held there as well.

Jauron said many of the classes offered will be geared toward transfer education and professional-development programs. But the main goal, and what Jauron said is the most important element of the project, will be the ability to teach any number of different subjects in any given classroom.

“If someone is going for his Realtor’s license, it doesn’t require specialized lab space,” Jauron said.

There is also the opportunity for expansion. The building will take up only a little more than half of the 11 acres, and while there are no immediate plans, Jauron said it’s beneficial to the college to have that option since enrollment has ballooned 48 percent since 1995.

“We’ll see where that goes and where the demand is."