WLC Project Feature: William F. James Ranch


Tucked up against the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains with the sound of Coyote Creek within earshot, the William F. James Ranch in east Morgan Hill, California is a youth detention facility for juvenile offenders in Santa Clara County.

Founded in 1956, the facility houses both male and female youth offenders with a focus on rehabilitation and productive reentry to their communities.  Offering programs and education in trades and skills while working in collaboration with other agencies to provide intervention and therapy helps to prepare the youth for positive outcomes in the future.

The new dormitory building increases the facility's capacity from 84 to 108 beds.  Using a pod-based layout, the building is designed with 9 living units, each housing 12 youth.  Within each living unit, a separate counseling space provides a safe space for staff and youth interaction.  Adjoining classrooms are accessible from each of the living units, keeping the education component connected to the living space.



The kids, who feel safe, are going to be more inclined for treatment, and my staff, because the facility is safe, is able to deliver treatment better. The more treatment we deliver, the safer the facility is. The design drives safety, which will drive the program.
— Michael Clarke, Probation Division Manager

Michael Clarke, the Probation Division Manager for William F. James Ranch, shared his insight on the impact of this expansion.

"This new facility is going to provide a better therapeutic environment. It's more private for the youth, so that we can develop what we call 'pod dynamics' for the twelve youth who are in each living unit. Not only that, just the amount of space and the setting itself is going to be such a better environment for the kids - and for my staff to deliver the program.

The main design elements of the building itself focused on increased safety for the kids who are here and for the staff.  The kids, who feel safe, are going to be more inclined for treatment, and my staff, because the facility is safe, is able to deliver treatment better. The more treatment we deliver, the safer the facility is. The design drives safety, which will drive the program."



Nick Birchard, Deputy Chief of the Institutions Division, contrasted the original facility with the updated design.

"This project - the dormitory in particular - is going to offer a night and day experience for a youth who is going to be committed to our James Ranch facility. The old dorm was a 1950's style barrack that is just so outdated and antiquated. When you look at what we have today, this is really the vision of our probation department ten years ago - to really create an environment that is going to present the best opportunity for a youth. We completely changed our vision, our mission, and what we wanted best for our kids.


The first minute you walk into any of the dorms, you see that this is a dorm room setting, just like you’d find on any college campus, not something you’d find in a juvenile facility.
— Nick Birchard, Deputy Chief - Institutions Division


This really looks like a private school - with a junior college feel.  I think that is the most impressive thing when you first come into this facility. It sets the tone for any youth, the public, or any of our agencies and stakeholders that we work with. The first minute you walk into any of the dorms, you see that this is a dorm room setting, just like you'd find on any college campus, not something you'd find in a juvenile facility."


First and foremost, we wanted the youth to experience a warm and inviting environment - akin to a real “home on the ranch” feel.
— Bill Louie, Principal Architect

WLC Architect Bill Louie shared his thoughts on the program goals for this facility.

"First and foremost, we wanted the youth to experience a warm and inviting environment - akin to a real "home on the ranch" feel. Apart from the many health and safety features that were  geared toward supporting rehabilitation, providing an enclosed campus feel for the staff with clean lines of sight was another way we could help support the program's goals."



Linda DaSilva, from Santa Clara County's Facilities and Fleet Department, commented on her past experience with WLC.

"Sir Winston Churchill said, 'First, we shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us.'  And it's so true. When you compare the old style probation facilities for youth, they feel like incarceration facilities. We want the youth to be at home.  There's no place better than home, but this is a pretty good second for the time that they spend with us.


There’s no place better than home, but this is a pretty good second for the time that they spend with us.
— Linda DaSilva, Facilities and Fleet Department

I have worked with WLC before on school design projects - and there is an educational program component within this project. In addition to the dormitory, there's a laundry facility in this phase, along with a gymnasium, kitchen, cafeteria, and admissions building in the next construction phases. Their expertise in all of those types of facilities is known in the industry - and their strong reputation precedes them."



WLC Architects thanks the County of Santa Clara for the opportunity to positively impact the lives of these youth during their time at James Ranch.  In addition, a big thank you to Roebbelen Contracting, Inc. for a great partnership for this project.  Congratulations on the grand opening of this incredible facility!

Michael Isidro