Thanks to a $600,000 renovation from Madison-area designers, Centro Hispano of Dane County now has a modern, aesthetically pleasing look to it. Centro Executive Director Karen Menendez Coller could not be more proud and excited.

“I think the Centro staff has for a while felt like the space here plays a big role in the work that you do and I think that they are lot happier now,” Menendez Coller tells Madison365. “The staff is here a lot at this building and they have been working so hard so they deserve an office that really makes them feel inspired.

“Everything is so new here now. The kitchen has new utensils and pots and pans. New couches everywhere and new floors … I really love the floors. They are a major improvement to the floors we had before,” she adds. “The total spent was $600,000. It’s the largest [remodeling job] that they’ve done in the whole country.”

The new-look Centro Hispano came courtesy of Floor360, the proud sponsor of Design for a Difference, the only community-driven designer movement in the U.S. and Canada that brings local business owners together with interior designers to makeover much-needed spaces at local charities and non-profits.

The new open-space lobby of Centro Hispano

“The people from ‘Design for a Difference’ flew out from L.A. on Saturday to do the taping and NBC-15 was the partner for television. Floor360 was the local company and they were wonderful,” Menedez Coller says. “They had 40 designers that they recruited to take this on. They were so creative and thoughtful and attentive. They donated all of their time and they were here at all hours of the day.”

Back in March, it was announced that Centro Hispano was this year’s big winner at the Spring into Design event held at FLOOR360. Planning for the big renovation has been going on ever since. Past project winners in Madison have included the Center For Families Respite Center on Fordem Avenue in 2015 and the Rainbow Project on East Washington Avenue in 2016.

Over the past two weeks, Centro Hispano has been torn apart and remodeled. “The actual work took a little less than two weeks,” says Menendez Coller. “We all had to leave so we were at different places off-site working. I spent a lot of time at Cargo Coffee. People were still getting services but in different spaces.”

All told, Centro Hispano had more than 12,000 square feet of renovations done including remodeling to the technology lab, kitchen, offices, children’s play areas, heroes room, lobby and other spaces.

Centro Hispano’s newly remodeled kitchen

In fact, this interview is being conducted in a place that never existed before. Menendez Coller and I are sitting in the cool-looking staff lounge area that at one point used to be a little walkway where two staff members would sit and work.

In 2006, Centro Hispano became the owner of its current 18,000-square-foot facility at 810 West Badger Road in the heart of Madison’s south side. The building has always been chaotic and not all that pleasant to look at. Sharon Kilfoy and local students really spruced up the place and brought it to life by painting beautiful murals everywhere a few years back, but there was still always the feeling that once you went past the main lobby area, the place was disorganized and chaotic. A good description for that giant area – a mix-match of hallways, random rooms, and storage areas – would be “Armageddon.”

Wall of Heroes at Centro Hispano

“Haha. Yes. That would be a good description of it. This is an old printing company so it was a little bit chaotic in this big space back here,” Menendez Coller says. “We didn’t really have ownership of our space. We hadn’t gotten there yet. But now, I think that the remodeling effort gives the building something that the community can be proud of and I think that’s important.”

Many community folks can even remember back in the day – years before Menendez Coller came to Madison from Los Angeles to become the executive director – that there was an actual gigantic printing press in one of the chaotic back rooms at Centro. “Oh, really? That’s funny,” she laughs. “That was before me. That’s crazy.”

Centro has historically leased out areas of that giant backspace to various community tenants and the new look will definitely make it more attractive to renters. “Joining Forces for Families is our main tenant right now,” she says. “Honestly, we’re running out of space a little bit [to rent] so that’s a good thing.”

On Sunday, Oct. 15, Centro hosted a party to celebrate the completed renovation for the community where people could walk around and do their own-self-guided tours to see the remodeling work for the first time. “It was so great to see everybody come through. We did the unveil and we went room by room. It was nice to see everybody,” she says. “I think people were really overwhelmed by everything they saw. Personally, I was overwhelmed because it really started to feel like a regular agency. It felt good.”

Centro Hispano was first founded in 1983 by a group of community volunteers, including Ilda Thomas Contreras, who also served as the agency’s first executive director, to meet the emergent needs of Cuban refugees recently settled in Madison.

“One of the volunteers who was here for Sunday’s event was here when Ilda was here and he told me, ‘You know Ilda was really forward thinking and that if she saw this she would be really proud of where Centro is going,’” Menendez Coller says. “That really made my day.”

Centro Hispano sees more than 5,000 clients every year. Menendez Coller can’t wait for them to come into Centro.

“For us, this whole makeover has been very exciting,” she says. “I hope more and more of the community will come out and see it.”