Built on historically scholastic ground, according to its founder the Digital Workshop Center is a school first and a coworking space second. Tucked between the DMA Plaza building for senior citizens and the castle-like church on Remington between Olive and Magnolia, the Digital Workshop Center inhabits a former public school building. In fact, one of Fort Collins’ first public schools once stood where DMA plaza currently stands. The round school bells still adorn the walls and a few unassuming details, like a patch of gym floor in a utility closet, remind me that this was once the annex to an elementary school. But it isn’t the cinder block classroom walls, the labyrinthine halls, or the focusing quiet that make this feel like a school. The educational values at the Digital Workshop Center are much more than eclectic vintage oddities, they are Stu Crair’s raison d’etre and what truly gives the space its studious, professional, and quiet atmosphere.
Without being boisterous or open-concept, the shared office space feels friendly. Beaming head shots of coworkers line a picture rail placed in the common room where beer and snacks are stocked. The teal, blue, and green color scheme is calming and the industrial building materials are complemented by homey lighting. Upon entering the inconspicuous entryway, I’m greeted by one of four friendly community managers in the coworking space. She enters from the administrative office to the left of the front door and offers me coffee. The smallest of the Fort Collins Coworking Alliance virtual coworking communities in Fort Collins, Digital Workshop Center has five private offices branching from the main room which is occupied by seven dedicated desks. A private phone booth stands in a far corner, removed from the industrious chatter. Various “hot desks” are spread throughout the school’s classrooms, conference room, and event space. In the heart of Old Town Fort Collins, the cozy room serves its particular niche admirably and the number of bikes on the rack out front tell me this space is popular with local freelancers and entrepreneurs.
Stu Crair, training director, owner, and founder of Digital Workshop Center, has deep roots in both education and technology. When he started his occupational training school he soon outgrew his nearby home office. He moved into the Remington building and now he employs fourteen instructors and four staff members and sustains another campus in Denver located in an unaffiliated coworking space there. The Digital Workshop Center’s primary students are professionals seeking professional development, continuing education, and certification. Many of these students come from local businesses: Otterbox, HP, Fort Collins City Government, and Larimer County. But some, about 40 percent, are folks seeking “skills, not degrees” through which the training promises a new career in tech, digital marketing, or design. Classes range from video editing to website design bootcamps and the Digital Workshop Center is one of the few schools certified to teach Adobe programs.
The coworking component of Digital Workshop Center was born of necessity. Stu found that many of his students, folks with full-time jobs and families, needed a quiet place to work on instructional projects. So after several years of just operating as a school in the back part of the building, he took over the front area and converted it to a coworking space in response to student demand. Many of the first coworkers were current or former students of the Digital Workshop Center and a culture of networking, cooperation, and support was organically born. “It came about naturally, as a symbiotic thing,” Stu says as he explains how it occurred to him to open the school up to coworking. Following certification and as his students move into business of their own it seemed logical to sustain the community and culture from the classroom to the office. “It was mutually beneficial, ” Stu succinctly states.
Now a diverse group of coworkers utilize the space. Some “weekend warriors” come in to work on their side hustles and passion projects on the weekends while others keep a more conventional work schedule. One vet pathologist spends some time in the coworking office and the rest onsite in San Diego. The inherent camaraderie is a secondary benefit, in Stu’s mind, to the practical necessity of a “quiet and professional work environment.” However, coworking success stories abound at the Digital Workshop Center despite its scholarly and academic principles. One student, upon quitting her less than enjoyable job as a dental hygienist, excelled in graphic design courses and soon became a freelance designer for Actualize Marketing. Actualize, likewise, grew enough to take over the top floor of the Remington school building and the thriving young designer became a coworker in the space herself.
Located within blocks of the city center, Digital Workshop Center has opened it doors to countless local events and charities. The location has made the space convenient for Startup Week events, meetups, and workshops. The Digital Workshop Center coworking community hosts several meetups for WordPress, Python, and coding groups. They support causes like Girl Develop It, a “nonprofit organization that provides affordable programs for adult women interested in learning web and software development in a judgment-free environment.” Digital Workshop Center is also a training center for career transition and training through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and works with the Workforce Center of Larimer County. They teach tech skills to those looking for a new career, folks without jobs, and even veterans through the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment act.
Before the Digital Workshop Center was a coworking space, it was just a training center located on Howes near Cohere in Fort Collins. As they grew and found this new building with room to grow, the Alliance support became all the more important. Stu has been a supporter of the Fort Collins Coworking Alliance since its inception for the benefit of pulling all coworking communities together for the common good. “Rising tides raise all ships, or so the saying goes,” Stu replies when I ask about the purpose of the Alliance. “I think even at a national level it elevates the communities here to be working together,” says Stu who doesn’t see a lot of competition between spaces so much as complementary highlighting. Stu says, “People shift around until they find the right fit, and that’s what it’s all about.” The Digital Workshop Center continues to grow and plans to add another meeting room where, back in the 60s, the gym teacher used to store the basketballs.
Natalie Scarlett is a freelance writer, editor, journalist, and teacher in Fort Collins, Colorado. She is the founder of Huckleberry Literary and Cipher Creative Productions. In addition to loving all things literary she directs original film, theater, and movement pieces. Her writing has been published in Splat, Aspect: Ratio, Mid-American Review, and (Salt) Arts and Culture Magazine. She likes to write about Fort Collins local color, immersive theater, and any kind of art.