The new, 25,000-square-foot Centro Hispano building that is currently being constructed on the corner of Cypress Way and Hughes Place on Madison’s South Side will make it possible for Centro to expand its reach and keep up with the needs of Dane County’s fast-growing Latinx community. For Dr. Karen Menéndez Coller, executive director of Centro, it is a dream come true.
“We’re on track … which is something that I’m really excited about,” Menéndez Coller tells Madison365. “Every week that I drive by there’s something new that goes up. I think I’m most excited about the sustainability pieces that we’re building into the new building .. like the solar, the geothermal, just the different connections to the land and getting energy from the land and having that be what powers the building in the community.
“We’re thinking it’s gonna be February or March when the building is complete,” she adds. “But we’ll probably have a grand opening a little bit after that when the weather begins to get nicer.”
Since the groundbreaking on Feb. 22, the new Centro Hispano building has been coming along nicely on Hughes Place and Cypress Way, just blocks away from Centro’s current building on Badger Rd. The new building’s design will be inspired by Centro’s “The Rhythm of the Plaza” and by Calli, the symbol of the campaign. Calli, or home, is an ancient symbol that originates back to the Aztec calendar and is associated with rest, tranquility and family, according to Centro’s website.
“What’s going to be really nice at the new place is that for the outside space, the landscaping is going to be really interesting… there will be different pieces with connections to the environment throughout,” Menéndez Coller says. “And then there’s even going to be an area where you can play basketball or soccer. There’s going to be a lot of landscaping and plants.
“Having an indoor and an outdoor Plaza dedicated to community building is really exciting,” she adds.
Across the street from the new Centro building is the Cypress Splash Park, a popular place for kids to be in the summertime.
“We want to take the opportunity to reinvigorate that area and have a garden there and kind of own it a little bit more. There’s going to be different pieces with the connection to the environment throughout,” Menéndez Coller says.
Over the years, Centro Hispano has grown to become the leading organization dedicated to empowering the Latinx population in Dane County. But its current building, located on 810 W. Badger Rd., has become “a little cozy,” as realtors say. Besides the front of the building, the current Centro headquarters, which was once a former printing company, has very few windows. The 18,193-square-foot facility, built in 1970, has gone through some interior renovations through the years, but the bottom line is that there’s just not a lot of room. Major Centro events are often held in the building’s lobby.
“We’ve grown so much over the last several years. We’ve tripled our staff … maybe quadrupled… and our budget has more than doubled,” Menéndez Coller says. “So we’re seeing more people in a space that when the building was purchased, it was fine. But even so, there is just not a lot of office space. There’s a lot of storage space. There’s some classroom space, but it’s not really meant to be a space to do the the things we want to be able to do with our young people and our workforce programming that we’re doing now.
“I think the new space will give us the space to do what we’re doing and then really start thinking about how we want to grow because we’ll have room to think about that,” Menéndez Coller adds. “We’re trying to expand our youth programs and we’re trying to build our immigration work that we’ve been doing and growing the workforce piece that we do at Centro. We want to be even more of a hub for collaboration and community building, too. I think as the South Side is developing, I want that more and more.”
It was important for the new Centro Hispano building to stay on the South Side of Madison, which has the highest concentration of low-income Latino families in the city,
“The Latinx community is growing immensely throughout the city and state. There’s a great community across this entire state and I’m just really mindful about how to keep and honor that heart,” Menéndez Coller says. “I remember at Centro when I started we had a lot of music and a lot of community gatherings. We want to sure that we continue to honor that while still pushing the larger systems to do better.”
The grand opening of the building coincides with the 40th anniversary of Centro Hispano of Dane County, which was founded in 1983 by Ilda C. Thomas and volunteers to meet the emergent needs of Cuban refugees in Madison. As you walk into the current Centro Hispano, you can see Thomas’ picture on the wall.
“I always reflect on that photo when I walk in. For Ilda, it was about the basics and being there for community,” Menéndez Coller says. “And even some of the things that she recognized during those times like mental health, alcohol and drug use … those are still challenges that we have now. Ilda is the heart of what was founded at Centro back in the day and I’m always trying to connect with that.
“I understand that at the basics of it all is our humanity as people and [the question is] how do we support each other with compassion and with kindness? I think now the world is so much more complicated and political and divisive … so it’s about how do we keep Ilda’s feeling and vision alive understanding that we also need a strong organization that’s sustainable,” she adds. “We need to plan things and really be strategic about how systems are going to support our community because things are getting more complicated.”
The Ilda Contreris Thomas Award will be presented at the Centro Hispano of Dane County’s 40th annual celebration at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on Thursday, Dec. 7 where Centro will honor outstanding local leaders and tell the story of its journey of growth throughout four decades. The Ilda Contreris Thomas Award represents “someone, who with humility and through values that align with Centro, ensures a strong Latinx voice.”
To purchase tickets to the Gala, click here.
In the meantime, Centro still has money yet to raise for their brand-new building. Donations can be made here.
“We have $1.9 million left to raise and my goal is to wrap it up by the end of the year,” Menéndez Coller says. “We have a $20 million goal … $18 million for capital and $2 million for seed funding for what the future is and for the dreams that we have with workforce, for our youth, and for the structure of this organization so that it’s strong for years to come.
“As we celebrate our 40th anniversary, I’ve been having a lot of feelings of reflection. It’s so significant just thinking about the community that Centro Hispano has made over these 40 years and what it has been able to provide but also having the feeling of: What’s next? Where are we going? I think this new building will provide the right next step for that.”