Billington Library Building

Historical Background, Structure, and Programing

[ View EMC Building west façade. Grass area present site of OCB Building. Circa 1979/80. ]

This building currently known and referred to as the Billington Library opened its doors in 1972; it is one of the six original buildings constructed on the land supporting JCCC’s second home but now its first permanent location and place of identity. At that time and for many years to follow the name designation, Billington Library, did not exist, and, in fact, none of the other original buildings were linked to either personal or commercial recognition. They are: Science (Sci), General Education (GEB), Commons (Com), Campus Services (CS) Buildings and the Gym. By planning and design, this building was known as the Educational Media Center with a major space serving primarily as the campus library for JCCC and it is still functioning and recognized as such to this day.

Located in the “heart of the campus”, the EMC building with the library is adjacent and connected to several other campus building. For the early years and with relatively few buildings beyond the originals the notion of being a “central” presence was not difficult to maintain but proved not lasting as the college expanded and new buildings and spaces appeared and growing outward from the central campus core, witness construction of Arts & Technology building, Office/Classroom building, and the Cultural Education Center (now Carlsen Center). The library program occupies almost half of the three-story, 86,600-SF building with departments on the first two floors, as noted in a space utilization study in this building by consultants in 2003. Apart from the library program, the remainder of this building over years has hosted a number of wide-ranging, diverse college programs and services, many are now housed elsewhere around campus.

Of the six originals, the EMC building ‘s floor spaces relative to the other building saw the most changes in tenants cycling through the building, floor spaces being re-purposed and re-drawn, and wall/hall configurations changing easily to accommodate various programs and services needed at the time.

That this building over the years has been sliced, diced, and served in more ways than a Thanksgiving turkey to meet changing College needs is a strong testimonial tribute to early conceptual planning and visionary design by both college staff and architects. Open space and modular are key design ideas of that time. One characteristic supportive of this vision is the large, open-space-area footprint with structure support pillars spaced 24 foot on center which allow much flexibility in defining and configuring for space, services, and physical needs for programs located therein. The shifting occupancy and use of the building’s spaces over the years reveal a fascinating insight on JCCC’s early development and how this building was used.

Starting 1972 and forward roughly nine years some of the tenants or services passing through this space were:

Third Floor: Word Production, Print Shop Production, Photography Office, Mailroom, Graphics, Electronics Lab, Drafting, Commercial Art, and Media Production.

Second Floor: Learning Center, Career Planning& Placement, Library staff offices,
Library technical processing operations, Counseling and Guidance program, Library Director office, Gallaudet Regional Extension Center and the Hearing Impaired Program, Library collections and study area, Student Development, Testing and Assessment Center, and Veterans Services.

First Floor: Data Processing (Administrative), Computer Room, Audio Visual Scheduling & Repair, Institutional Research, Photography Darkroom, Television Distribution/Production studio, Library Circulation, Library Reference & Services, Library Periodicals and Reserve materials, and small classroom.

In contrast to the present [2016] some programs and services in the Billington building remain unchanged in their locations. From top to bottom floor wise, the current alignment and offerings are: (3) - classrooms, Writing Center, Educational Technology Center, faculty/administrative offices, College Archives, Graphic Design, and Grants Development; (2) – Language Lab, Computer Lab, Library Circulating Collection & Seated Study Area, Library staff offices and Library Materials Processing area; and (1) – Television Production Studio & staff offices, Publications Content Creation, College Photographer office & production studio, Desktop Publishing, Library Circulation/Reserve materials, Library Information & Research Assistance, Periodical & DVD collections, Library Classroom, Study space/seating, and Library administrative office.

Structural Characteristics: The Billington Library building has two entry points. What is considered the main entry is on the west side of the building, opening onto the interior campus quadrangle and providing the library with a strong, inward campus connection.

[ The above image is a view looking down from the second floor to the EMC lobby and west entry doors. To the left is a partial view of bull-nose stairwell. The area at the top of the image is a view of students gathered around study tables and to the right (out of view) were snack and beverage vending machines. This image is circa 1972 to 1973. ]

Entering via ground level west doors, one encounters a large, open space three-story atrium lobby dominated by an imposing, unpainted, concrete-encased bullnose stairwell towering the entire lobby area. For many years and by original conception, this stairwell was designed as a strong architectural element and statement; there is no doubt that visual was achieved and in a striking manner. For anyone entering the lobby it was “mockingly” referred to as having a fortified bunker-like appearance to ward off some mythical attack. From a differing aesthetic perspective, this stairway configuration poses a physical and visual barrier when entering the lobby that can be described as harsh, uninviting, and uninspiring. Another critical issue evolving from this open, brick-wall atrium is that of acoustics and control for ambient noise or amplified sound reflections. Primary vertical circulation and traffic flow through the building via the lobby stair is limited and access to third floor has been closed off for years even though access is possible. The existing elevator poses an additional limitation and inconvenience because of its back-of-house location. A further design limitation, circulation between floor levels becomes more problematic due to issues of library security and connections to other buildings. There are three other stairwell towers [east, south, & west] covering all three floors and they are adequate for exiting the building.

The open ground-floor lobby space existed mainly untouched or re-purposed for nearly 39 years until the lending services desk/reserves footprint took over as a result of some library remodeling in 2011. The stone aggregate hard surface flooring was also covered over by carpeting at that time.

Campus East Front Door versus East Back Door Controversy.

The second entry is located on the building’s east side leading directly to a stairway, the elevator, and thru corridors into the campus interior that is located outside of library security. This original entry goes visually unnoticed; it largely used by patrons because of student parking on the east side and foot traffic connecting the Regnier Center and the Museum. The building’s east side loading/service dock and elevator are serviceable but function less than adequately in terms of convenience, use, or accessibility to move library
materials between floors or for patrons with physical challenges and mobility issues who must access other parts of campus.

For many years prior to existence of both the new Regnier complex and the Culinary Center the campus east side hosted [and still does] a main campus entry from Quivira road and several large student parking lots. This configuration dictated the flow student foot traffic entering the campus interior to pass through the EMC building east door and corridor on their way to elsewhere. Over time, many staffers - - especially those working in the EMC building - -, in jest and amusement, thought of this nondescript, single door entry as a “back door” of the EMC building and, by extension, a satirical claim was made that only “front door” into campus and its interior was in reality through this east side “back door.”

[ This 1990 photo shows the EMC’s east side and student parking. The “entry door” to the building and to the campus interior (view hidden), is just to the left of the large cluster of evergreen trees. The two vans close to the building occupy Disabled parking accommodations for convenient building access. ]

Exterior Architecture.
Externally, this building is a concrete structure and with poured-in-place walls, roof, and foundation as specified under general campus construction protocols in the early 1970s. The floor slabs, likewise, are poured-in-place waffle slabs with embedded ducts for some ventilation, electrical, and plumbing needs. For aesthetics and to conceal the honey-combed concrete overhead appearance, all building ceilings are covered by suspended acoustic fiber tiles which also mask over a massive amount of wire cabling and conduit running throughout all of the floors and to mitigate reflected noise and sound. The windows are mostly all original to the construction and are of single pane ¼ inch glass which, by today’s energy standards, are less than efficient in terms of heat loss or gain.

The exterior envelope uses red brick and glazing, and is overall consistent with the architectural design plan of that time for the appearance of original campus buildings.

Interior Architecture.
The interior finishes and surfaces are of adequate condition but do require on-going, periodic maintenance repair attention. An exception, the walls surrounding the lobby/atrium are brick-over-concrete; the stairs are concrete. Otherwise, interior walls on all three floors are composed of gypsum board (sheet rock) with metal studs and this affords great flexibility and adaptability when planning for layout of new space for programs or services or when an existing program footprint vacates and wall structures are removed and the floor space are re-defined and re-drawn.

Heating & Air-Conditioning Systems.
This building is heated entirely via thermostat controlled electric resistance heater coil units. Nearly all heating equipment is original and is not without problems concerning repair and parts replacements.

Like other campus structures, this three story building is provided with a circulating chilled water cooling system fed through buried piping system coming from the campus’ central distribution system. Building pumps handle internal circulation of chilled water across the three floors to create cooling. Operationally similar to automotive cooling system, chilled water, varying between 42 and 48 degrees F, is pumped through coils and air blowing over to create the cooling effect. The containment unit for the chilled water supply is a large cement cylinder with a capacity of 60,000 gallons and lies buried under a large, earthen mound located outside of the College Commons building. This geothermal system was constructed in 1993 at a cost of $895,000 dollars to both conserve energy usage and reduce electrical utility cost by approximately $50,000 a year.

To a casual observer this “hill” has always been a source of mystery and speculation because it stands in stark, prominent contrast to the relative flatness of the campus landscape. It has been an on-going venue for many questions raised by campus newcomers when they see it and the many explanations creative offered by staff in response; rest assured that under this hill, there does not reside the remains of an ancient Druid sacrificial burial site nor is it the site of a secret nuclear missile silo.

Building Name.
The EMC building is the first of the original six campus structures to assume a change in name to honor the service and dedication by Dr. Wilbur Billington who contributed greatly to the early evolution and development of JCCC. Upon recommendation presented, the Board of Trustees honored him for his service and vison by naming of this building to Billington Library in 2000. Of his many accomplishments to JCCC history over the years, Dr Billington, in the 1960s, chaired the committee to study the feasibility for a community college and growing from that vision he advocated for legislation authorizing community colleges in Kansas. As a founding trustee, he was further instrumental in advocating for passage of the local bond issue in Johnson County creating funding for this institution and it early presence in Merriam; he served as a trustee to JCCC from 1967 to 1975, including being its first Chairman of the Board of the early Trustees. Dr Billington later served on the JCCC Foundation Board and in 2010 was named Trustee Emeritus. Apart from his varied services to the College, Will Billington, by his educational background and training in economics, served as Executive Vice President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Dr Billington passed away August 21, 2016.

Other Characteristics of Note.

  • Architect: Marshall & Brown
  • Building SQ Footage: 92,200
  • Total Construction Cost: $3,535,700

Estimated Replacement Cost: $14,880,000 (dollar figure as reported in 2005)

Additional views of the EMC building & campus at different points in time.

[ Aerial view approaching, from the east, of EMC building & “original campus”. Photo 1972. ]

[ Aerial view from the northeast looking into campus. EMC building & student parking lower left. To the far upper right of this photo is the Gym. To its left is the newly constructed ATB building (dedicated Fall 1981), the first “new building” beyond the original six structures. Note the sparse landscaping and lots of open campus space. Center foreground would be the future home of the OCB building and later the Cultural Education Center. This aerial view of the campus makes for difficulty in trying to decide or to identify what could be said about trying to define a true “front door” to the campus. This photo circa 1982 – 83. ]

Sources attribution.

  • Building’s technical details, with editorial modification, courtesy of a study by Leo A. Daly & Associates, “Johnson County Community College – Billington Library: Transformation Study”, (2003). This document was part of early discussions on proposal to renovate and realign programs and services therein.
  • Images JCCC Archives.
  • Personal anecdotal, commentary on the Billington Library building provided by this author and his connection thereto.

November 1, 2016
John Russell, Prof/Librarian


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