Makeovers, renovations, and dream spaces
by Heather Turbeville
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It’s a common saying, popular with all manner of people—from Friedrich Nietzsche to Kelly Clarkson. Though it may sound like a cliché, at least one studio owner has found it to be true.
In 2014 Art in Motion Academy of Dance (AIM) was thriving. The 13-year-old Norton, Massachusetts, studio served approximately 210 students ages 18 months and up and offered a range of dance classes, including ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, and Riverdance.
But around that time owner Melissa Cottreau noticed that one of her largest annual expenses was rent, which increased each year. “After seeking professional advice,” she says, “we determined that if we purchased space for the studio, we could increase our overall facility size, add another room, and customize the studio to best suit our needs—all for slightly more than we were paying in monthly rent. Best of all, we would no longer be paying a landlord.”
Cottreau found the land for the new studio in November 2014 and finalized the purchase in December 2015. Because there was no structure on the land, Cottreau was able to build from the ground up (which is AIM’s recital theme this year). “My dad [a retired engineer] designed our forever dance home,” Cottreau says.
“We handed in our keys [to the old studio] on June 30 because we were attending nationals the week of July 4 and needed a studio until that point,” Cottreau says. Little did she know that getting the new studio up and running was going to take as long as it did.
“Anyone who has ever built anything will tell you that [the process] rarely ever finishes on time,” Cottreau says.
When Cottreau appeared before the town planning board, she expected her plans and drawings to be approved, but one member of the board had an issue with the traffic flow in the parking lot, which required Cottreau to amend her engineering plans and resubmit them at the following month’s meeting.
A few days after breaking ground, the building inspector found some fill from the prior structure that was inadequate to support the new building. The fill had to be removed and replaced, a delay of two weeks.
One particularly unexpected obstacle was getting power to the building. The local power company required Cottreau to have a pole installed on the property but didn’t hook up the power until 10 days before the studio opened. Cottreau says, “We spent a lot of time working in the dark and on generator power,” which slowed down the process.
Working with the general contractor went well for the most part, but Cottreau says that some of the subcontractors “wouldn’t show up in hot weather or rain, and others would just take days off. In an environment where work has to be completed before the next subcontractor can begin, these delays set us back a few weeks.”
All in all, AIM had no home from July 1 until early November 2016. “Our stuff was in a pod and in our garage!” Cottreau says. Because AIM was unable to hold summer programs or classes in September and October, Cottreau had to use some of her personal savings to cover the loss of revenue.
The new space
The new 6,000-square-foot AIM studio opened in November 2016. The first thing people notice when they visit the studio is its bright red roof. All decor, seating, and cubbies are in one of the AIM colors—red, black, or gray; for instance, the stereo components in each classroom are stored in a bright red equipment rack.
The new studio has three classrooms. The largest spans almost 1,500 square feet. The other two are about 1,200 square feet. All three are equipped with floating dance surfaces—two with StageStep Timestep dance floors and one with a floating maple hardwood floor. All of the classrooms are fully climate controlled.
Early in the design process Cottreau decided to forgo drop ceilings and embrace the distinctive look of the open 20-foot ceilings. The classrooms use energy-efficient LED lights, which provide great lighting. “Colored LED lighting over the front mirrors adds fun and variety to the classroom,” Cottreau says. The sound systems are Bluetooth compatible, so teachers are free to move around the dance rooms with full control of the music.
The waiting room has three high-definition TVs that allow for viewing of all dance studios in full 1080HD, an upgrade over the TVs in the previous facility. In addition, Cottreau’s office is equipped with a TV that has a live feed from the three classrooms and the waiting room, so that she can watch at all times.
“We understand that school work is a priority,” Cottreau says. In the old studio, kids would use a staff room as a study, but the new studio has a room designed specifically for them to work on homework assignments.
The new studio has three bathrooms, one more than the previous space, and a shower in the staff bathroom. Other upgrades are a dedicated birthday party room and a large prop room with a garage door that makes loading and unloading for events a breeze. AIM also has a store stocked with a full selection of AIM-branded gear as well as tights, leotards, shoes, and other dance accessories.
Given her experience, Cottreau recommends adding an extra three to six months onto a build-out schedule, so there is time to deal with the unexpected.
She also stresses the importance of communication. “The day we closed on the land,” she says, “we announced the news to the studio families with a short celebratory video through our communication channels: email, social media, etc.” She used those same channels to keep families engaged throughout the building process—sending monthly newsletters and frequently posting pictures of the construction on the studio’s Facebook page. “We really focused on the ‘Our New Home’ theme, allowing our dancers and their families to truly feel part of the process,” Cottreau says.
Through her local connections, Cottreau was able to hold registration and shoe fittings offsite. “These events were very well attended and very encouraging for us during the delays,” Cottreau says. Because of these events, as well as the many reminders she posted to register online, classes began immediately after the studio opened.
Despite opening two months late, AIM currently has 230 students, a nearly 10 percent increase over last year’s enrollment. And all of these students get to enjoy the brand-new studio space.
DSL copy editor Heather Turbeville holds an MFA in creative writing and literature from Emerson College. She lives in San Francisco, where she writes fiction, studies belly dance, and performs with The Zakiyya Dancers.