Dennis & Janice Caprara Community Center Complex

Located in the fertile Salinas Valley, surrounded by rolling hills and verdant farmland, Gonzales has played a pivotal role in California’s agricultural development. The city’s blue-collar workforce, largely immigrants and farmers, contributes to its vibrant economy. With a population of approximately 8500 people, approximately 86% of Gonzales residents are of Hispanic or Latino origin, with a relatively high percentage of Spanish-speaking residents under the age of 19.

The new Dennis & Janice Caprara Community Center Complex will be a cornerstone of this tightly knit community. Strategically located on a city-owned parcel adjacent to the middle school and high school, the center will feature essential amenities such as a community hall, teen innovation center, and a County library—all aimed at enriching the lives of residents.

Designing an equitable and welcoming community center for the City of Gonzales began with forming a team led by Spanish-speaking architects within WRNS Studio, including firm partners Lillian Asperin and Raul Garduno. We believed that trust would be built more easily and quickly during the stakeholder engagement process when we could be nimble with language and this proved to be the case.

We were thoughtful about forming not only our internal team, but our broader team of consultants and sub-consultants. For instance, a driver for the design-build team—WRNS Studio collaborated with Otto Construction—was to familiarize the community with the design and construction process. Key project milestones were treated as valuable educational opportunities to illustrate the importance of design and construction in resource stewardship while providing avenues for learning through internships and employment. With Otto’s headquarters in nearby Monterey, they were able to foster local talent by employing staff and trade partners who have grown up and live in the region, promoting professional pathways and financial mobility.

Likewise, our inclusive design process extended beyond the traditional meetings to engage the Gonzales Youth Council (GYC). The youth were not merely voices in the crowd; they served as ambassadors and representatives acting as advocates for previous and future generations. The GYC met with the design team intermittently during design to prioritize and define the possibilities for this new community center. Their participation was not limited to formal sessions; input was solicited during lunchtime or other school breaks to ensure accessibility and conversations happened in both English and Spanish. The GYC then represented the project at City Hall meetings and other civic venues—tomorrow’s leaders shaping the future of the City.

A phased approach prioritizes Gonzales’ youth with spaces for gaming, ping pong, and yoga. Phase two includes the community hall, functional offices, and a much-needed fitness center. A modern aesthetic rooted in simplicity plays homage to its modest neighborhood, surrounding farmland, and low rolling hills. A functional yet eye-catching butterfly roof adorns the structure, while a vibrant courtyard and amphitheater offers space for gathering and events.

For this project, equity transcends architecture; it’s embedded in the program and in the process. The Dennis & Janice Caprara Community Center Complex is more than a building; it’s a testament to the community’s investment in future generations.

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