Makeovers, renovations and dream spaces
by Heather Turbeville
Stick with what works. That’s the philosophy that Loren LoMastro Specht, owner/director of LoMastro Performing Arts Academy in Lake Forest, Illinois, has followed in all of her studio build-outs.
Since 2007 LoMastro Performing Arts Academy has offered dance classes, including ballet, pointe, contemporary/modern, jazz, tap, and conditioning, as well as voice, acting, music, and tumbling classes for all ages and levels, training the student from early childhood through the pre-professional level. The studio also offers parent–child classes for babies and toddlers with a parent or caregiver and classes for children with learning differences and special needs. Approximately 500 students attend classes at the academy.
Building out a new space
In 2010, LoMastro Specht’s lease on her previous space was ending. The school was ready for a fourth classroom, and she was tired of dealing with the corporation that managed her first space. She found two units (one above the other) in a three-year-old shopping center. Neither space had been previously occupied, so she had a blank canvas to work with.
LoMastro Specht hired the architecture and design firm that had built out her first location. (The firm is owned by a local couple whose daughter LoMastro Specht had taught years before.) The work took three months, and by the end of it, the two units had been combined to create a 5,100-square-foot two-story facility.
LoMastro Specht’s current space has four classrooms: one at 1,200 square feet, two at 875 square feet, and one at 660 square feet. Each of the classrooms has fully sprung DIN-certified dance floors and marley dance surfaces.
The classrooms are equipped with wall-mounted stereos that can play CDs or anything attached via auxiliary cord, but that’s changing. “We don’t need CDs,” LoMastro Specht says, “so we’re replacing [the CD player] with a receiver that has options for Bluetooth or aux plug-in.”
“Our color scheme is spa-like with a touch of sparkle,” LoMastro Specht says, “with a beautiful French chandelier [in the lobby] and pale aqua/brown cheetah print upholstery.”
A live video feed of each classroom plays on the large flat-screen monitors in the lobby, allowing parents an opportunity to view classes without disturbing the students. The lobby also includes plentiful seating and an onsite boutique, where clients can purchase dance apparel, accessories, and shoes.
A study room has desks and chairs so that students can do homework, as well as a TV with a DVD player. “The kids can watch choreography on DVD,” LoMastro Specht says. “If we’re resetting choreography from our Nutcracker, for example, we may have a student learn from the DVD.”
There are also private dressing rooms and a changing area for students to store belongings while they’re taking classes.
Photographs of current and former students line the walls throughout the studio. “I hire a professional photographer for all of our dress rehearsals and also to do photo shoots at least twice per year,” LoMastro Specht says. “I’m often reminding the dancers, ‘There’s a photographer here; if you look great in a photo you may end up on the wall.’ ”
The main obstacle LoMastro Specht faced was a tight timeline—“nothing that a good contractor couldn’t navigate,” she says. The lease on her old space was ending in September 2010. She found the new space in March of 2010; lease negotiations took about a month. She applied for permits, and construction began in June 2010. “We finished our summer classes at the end of July 2010 in our former space,” she says. “We were open at the new location in August but classes didn’t start until September.”
This past summer LoMastro Specht built a fifth classroom in a satellite location on the opposite side of town to reach a market of preschoolers and beginners whose parents are looking for dance classes close to home.
“There is a rec center dance program on the east side [of town],” she says. “I want to be an alternative to that rec center for beginners. I believe that where they start is where they stay, as long as they’re happy.”
LoMastro Specht hired the same contractor she used for both of her previous build-outs. “I stopped by a few times to check on progress, but that’s it,” she says. A grand opening event was held August 26, and classes began September 11.
How has LoMastro Specht managed three successful build-outs? “Hire a good contractor and an architect that has a relationship with your city,” she says. In terms of designing and decorating your studio, she also has a specific recommendation: “Make your decor reflect the personality of your school.”
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.