what is Smiley?

Fall colors
The 45,000-square-foot Smiley Building is a formerly abandoned, Depression-era junior high school transformed over the last decade by a trio of dedicated individuals into an energy efficient solar-powered center for arts, education and creativity located in downtown Durango, Colorado.

In 1997 brothers John and Charles Shaw and his wife Lisa Bodwalk bought the run-down building from the local school district. The historic, yellow-brick, Mission-style structure was extensively renovated and made highly energy efficient. The Smiley Building's three enthusiastic owners have transformed the junior high school, constructed in 1936, into a hub of community activity-- and the meticulously restored historic building into a world-renowned showcase for energy-efficiency and solar power.

Today the hallways and former classrooms of the Smiley Building buzz with activity from dawn until late at night, with classes ranging from dance, music, martial arts, and yoga to ceramics, photography, painting and web design.

A Decade of Dedication

From 1997 to 2007, the Shaw brothers put in thousands of hours renovating and adding cutting-edge energy conservation retrofits to the three-story building. Their efforts were aided by the help of employees and many interested volunteers.

Volunteers work on the solar retrofit
Atop the building's roof, the Shaw brothers built the region's largest array of photovoltaic panels. The array supplies all the building's electrical needs and feeds clean power back into the local electrical grid. In addition, the brothers built another rooftop array of refurbished solar-heating panels that supplies all the building's hot water and much of its winter heating needs.

The brothers added other energy-conservation features throughout the building, including compact-fluorescent lighting, motion detectors, water-conservation technology, and high-efficiency wood and natural gas fired boilers. They also renovated the building's nearly 300 windows one by one, restored the building's original doors, and rebuilt the building's striking brick arches. The owners' energy-efficient renovations have reduced the building's energy costs by more than a factor of ten, from $5,000 per month when they purchased the building to less than $400 per month today.

The renovation and conservation efforts by the Shaws and Bodwalk have earned the trio worldwide acclaim, including a Solar Today magazine cover story.

Today, Smiley is run by Charles Shaw and Lisa Bodwalk, while John Shaw now runs a solar-contracting business in Durango.


Snowed in
The former Smiley Junior High School was named for former Durango School District Superintendent Emory E. Smiley. It served as a junior high school and later a high school from 1936 to 1994. The school district declared the building as surplus property in 1995. The Shaws and Bodwalk convinced the school district of their vision for the abandoned building and purchased it in 1997.

The building's renovation was made possible through the efforts of the building's owners, employees, and a core of dedicated volunteers, as well as restoration grants from the Colorado Historical Society's State Historical Fund.

The renovation began with fixing up classrooms for Smiley's first tenants. Early projects included 20,000-square-feet of re-roofing, interior painting in eye-catching colors, reconditioning of 30,000-square-feet of the building's maple floors, all new electrical, plumbing and heating systems as well as a makeover of the building's neglected, paved grounds into inviting gardens and walkways. Exterior historic restoration included the rebuilding and replacement of the Smiley Building's 275 rotted window frames, refurbishment of the building's blond-brick exterior and building replicas of all the original oak doors.

The early renovations were followed by the installation of the building's conservation and solar-energy features. As a result of Smiley's energy efficiency and solar power, the building is less inexpensive to operate, so lease rates can be kept low enough for the building's perennially cash-strapped, arts-oriented tenants to afford.

While performing all the renovation and efficiency work, the trio of owners maintained the Smiley Building's historic look and feel. The Smiley Building is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

All Full

The building's former classroom spaces are filled with more than thirty five permanent tenants, who together with their sub-letters draw hundreds of people per day to the building. Smiley's tenants offer everything from classes in yoga, martial arts, dance, music, drawing, painting, photography and acting to services such as architecture, web design, massage. Smiley is also home to numerous non-profit community organizations and even a Montessori school. The largest tenant is The Dance Center run by Lisa Bodwalk. Each week more than 250 children and 100 adults participate in the dance school's day and evening classes, which range from ballet and jazz to hip-hop and salsa. Several times a year the dancers perform in the Smiley Building's renovated 600-seat theater.

One Of A Kind

From the garden
Today the Smiley Building is firmly established as a one-of-a-kind, solar powered community fixture of immeasurable value to Durango; one that buzzes with activity day and night as students of all kinds come and go, potters throw clay, artists paint canves, designers fashion Web pages, green architects draw plans, and parents meet to discuss parenting tips with their toddlers in tow.

The value of the Smiley Building as a community center for the arts has been recognized by the local media. When the Shaws and Bodwalk first bought the building, an editorial in the local paper questioned the wisdom of the sale by the school district to the trio of "unknowns." Recently, however, an editorial in the paper championed the Smiley Building, its owners, and the key role the unique building now plays in the community. "The Smiley Building is in the right hands," the editorial concluded.

Summer 2007
Smiley's goal is to create a space that people will love and gravitate to, a space that serves as a model for a new kind of world. "It sounds corny," says building co-owner Lisa Bodwalk, "but it's true: Smiley's vision is about creating a new world, a new way to live. And it really is happening here. I see it every day in the halls of the building, people stopping to talk to one another, to share ideas and learn from one another. People with common and not-so-common interests just visiting and being together. That's what Smiley makes possible."

Smiley Building tenants and users agree, as the following quotes from letters of support for the building and its owners attest:

"The Smiley Building is a vibrant, well-maintained, and thoughtful gathering place. It serves as a model for other communities that wish to use historic buildings for the good of their citizens. Both inside and out, great creativity and loving care are evident."

"The Smiley Building has a wonderful reputation as an educational, artistic, and communal part of our community."

"The Smiley Building is feel good, fun loving, community oriented, locally run, small, cozy, and warm. It  is Durango's community center."

"The Smiley Building is a wonderful, vibrant place."

"I feel a close community connection to the historic building and the vibrant center it has become thanks to the Shaws' vision."

"I have never seen more dedicated people with a genuine interest in the creation of a unique environment for community activities."

"These are good people doing great things for our community."

"The Smiley Building is a major contributor to providing a sense of community to Durango-area residents."

The Smiley Building, Durango, Colorado