S.P.A.C.E. builders

“The Seaview Performing Arts Centre for Education will always be much more than the sum of the materials that were used to build it.” Paddy Daly

Joe, Bohdi, Graham, Kevin, Billy, Johnny, David, Boaz

Phase Two of our S.P.A.C.E. construction project was the grand pavilion—a state-of-the-art Polynesian-style multi-purpose center with bathrooms, storage, and offices. We were working on a very tight budget, with only $328,000 for a 3,500-square foot building designed and permitted to commercial standards. I had drawn up a list of all the local skilled trades people I knew and called upon them to give support if they could. As our former Hawai’i County Mayor Billy Kenoi famously said, “If can, can” and our grossly underserved rural community in Puna, Hawaii decided, “we can.”  And we did!

Billy Olsen

Virtually all of the work—from the septic system, to the concrete slab, to the building and interior decorating—was done by local residents. Michael Gornick, a spiritual community leader, graciously agreed to be our licensed contractor, for a minimum sum, providing I worked as the project manager. He introduced us to Billy Olsen who became our supremely proficient crew boss. Additionally, I was able to find six neighbours willing to work on the crew—Billy was the only one who couldn’t see his own house from the building roof. Further support came from a host of enthusiastic but inexperienced Bellyacres interns who volunteered hundreds of hours. S.P.A.C.E. was a labor of love. Enthusiasm to help realise the dream of a community facility became our driving force. Everyone worked harder and longer than we contracted them for – continuously going above and beyond – to create the vision.

For a whole year prior to construction Joe Hoffman and Kevin Sulgit, with interns help, had been painstakingly preparing all the building materials we needed. They trimmed, stripped, sanded and coated over 48 large ohia trees, some of which had been cut down nearly twenty years before, stacked, dried and carefully stored for this event. They also sanded and triple coated all of the milled lumber, beams and boards, so we barely needed to paint anything after construction. This saved us a huge amount of time and effort during the building phase.

Meanwhile I spent the year working with our architect friend Valerie Simpson to complete our revised plans and obtain all the required County permits. It was one of my biggest challenges especially as I was just a renegade circus director and had no prior experience of commercial construction and this was Valerie’s first commercial project. It took us four times longer to get permits than time spent actually constructing the building!


After the large septic system was installed we started on the extensive concrete slab work. One of my HICCUP circus alumni Kyle built up the pad and Billy supervised the forming of the slab with labour from our hardworking interns. Bob Supan from Seaview, Crandall from Puna Pallisades and Dustin another HICCUP graduate led the team doing the huge concrete pour. It was a mammoth operation but everyone pitched in and the weather was with us.

Next, Michael brought a crew who framed the office, storage and bathroom areas then we erected the basic structure formed by forty majestic ohia tree posts with ohia bracing. The stainless steel hardware for fitting all the posts to the foundation and to the beams was all designed and welded by friend Dean Krakauer whose son later attended our S.P.A.C.E. school and became one of our star jugglers. Our neighbour Scott Widdifield brought his back hoe machine to help move and stand up the very heavy ohia posts saving our backs and reducing our stress.

There were a lot of ingenious methods used to lift the many long beams that tied the posts together, mostly using the scaffolding towers donated by another local friend from Kehena. We only rented the expensive crane for one memorable afternoon when all the ridge framing was secured into position.

Several hundred tongue and groove boards were manually lifted up to the roof surprisingly quickly by our eager crew. They then required extra heavy strapping and nailing to withstand 140 mile per hour hurricane winds – since S.P.A.C.E. was designed to also serve as a natural disaster shelter for our community.

Boaz did some fancy artistic carvings on the ends of the beams on the four corners and the ridge which highlighted the artistic purpose of the building. Bohdi was ‘Mister Yes’ always keeping the vibes positive while Sean turned our central beams and facia boards into beautiful rainbows.

Most community buildings in Hawaii have tin roofs which sound like a drumming troupe during the tropical rainfalls and need replacing after twenty years. We decided to use a commercial roofing material on top of our attractive wood ceiling that didn’t rust and would not cause distractions in heavy rain. S.P.A.C.E. was sustainably designed incorporating renewable energy, catchment water, natural lighting in all rooms and natural flow ventilation.

We utilised about 2,000 board feet of ohia trim wood and mango slabs sawn by Mayag and planed smooth by Clive, two other local craftspeople. Our bathroom counters were made by neighbor Garry and his HICCUP apprentice Sasha from some beautiful mango wood harvested from our own Bellyacres forest. The angels who made S.P.A.C.E. possible just kept coming. One day Adrian, another Seaview resident, dropped by and offered to do all of our drywalling for free using all his own professional equipment which again saved us more money. Much of the electrical installation was done by Marcellus one of our original HICCUP performers. Paddy, who volunteered loads of time during construction then installed the panels for our 5.6 Kw solar system – just before solar panels became cheap and popular. Being 100% reliant upon catchment water we installed two large water tanks which were later transformed into crazy circus mural paintings. Murals were eventually added to the bathrooms and several other walls by a variety of talented visiting artists.

Everyone from our Puna community who contributed was filled with pride about all that we achieved with S.P.A.C.E. Typically we were viewed as inept outliers by outsiders who greatly underestimated our capabilities. Honouring all the many people who made the construction of S.P.A.C.E. possible, at our grand opening ceremony on November 2, 2007, required a lengthy speech but it was well deserved and well received by the packed pavilion. The icing on the cake was the fact that we had successfully achieved this in full compliance with county codes and S.P.A.C.E. was fully permitted for use just days before we started our programs. We were legal and complaint for once…but not for long!

S.P.A.C.E. was undoubtedly the pinnacle of my achievements at Bellyacres. It was the realization of a long-time dream and it took all of my physical and mental resources to pull it off. This was THE project—out of many, many projects—where my leadership skills and training were most tested and tried. Not only in the years of preparation, but also during the amazing period of construction. As the project manager with years invested in the S.P.A.C.E. outcome, I was poised to give every ounce of my focus every day and along with other concurrent events it proved to be the most turbulent and testing  period of my life up to that point. 

The whole project was a beautiful and inspiring demonstration expression of community togetherness and S.P.A.C.E. will always be much more than the sum of the materials that were used to build it as the comments in this commemorative video confirms.

Our S.P.A.C.E. team had painstakingly manifested a fabulous building after years of community networking to garner the necessary support and secure the required permits. We were unable to complete the construction of the whole structure we had designed simply because we lacked the full amount of funding required. Had we changed our development model at that time, taken out a mortgage and employed a contractor to build it, we would have potentially solved some problems, but created others. The section of S.P.A.C.E. that remains unbuilt to this day was specifically designed to provide a commercial kitchen, meeting rooms, showers and other facilities. But, it wasn’t to be and so the renegade dream continues…………………perhaps one day!

SPACE original design

Published by Graham Ellis

As a child of the '60's with a wanderlust spirit I just followed my dreams and opportunities as they arose. My journey took me to some of the brightest and darkest places imaginable. I met amazing people on the way, some were famous and some are infamous. Some are just great friends with stories that blended with mine as we traveled together on land, on the sea and in the sky. We all share the renegade spirit !

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