Makeovers, renovations, and dream spaces
by Heather Turbeville
Southwest Synergy Dance is not just a dance studio. According to studio owner and artistic director Connie O’Reel, it’s also a comfortable, safe, and fun place to be. This focus on family friendliness guided the build-out of the studio’s new space a few years ago.
A giant leap
Located in Tinley Park, Illinois, Southwest Synergy Dance offers classes in ballet, pointe, tap, jazz, contemporary, hip-hop, acro, core, and musical theater as well a variety of creative movement classes for the youngest kids. About 300 students, from 15 months to 18 years, take classes at the studio.
In 2014 O’Reel decided to move to a new space. “We had outgrown the space we were in,” she says of her original 1,800-square-foot facility. A realtor friend found a space in a strip mall that had been vacant for 10 years. “It is a pie shape, and it didn’t work for a lot of businesses,” O’Reel says, “because it didn’t have much of a storefront.”
What sold O’Reel on the odd duckling? The new space was 6,900 square feet.
The biggest obstacle O’Reel faced was permitting. She started the permitting process in May 2014, and it took most of the summer just to get approval to be in the space. She had to attend several village board meetings and a public hearing. “We did all of the construction work in about three weeks,” she says. “We got approved for our build-out on August 12 and we opened September 8.”
From tanning to tap
The new space had previously been a tanning salon. Four of the structures for the tanning booths became storage closets along one side of the space. The tanning rooms on the other side became a boutique, a party room, a homework room, and an office. But the rest of the walls that made up the tanning structures had to come down.
Construction work included putting up new walls to frame the studios, laying the floating floors, repainting the entire space, and installing new water heaters and sinks. “In addition we had to rewire outlets, rewire lighting, and install a new fire alarm system,” O’Reel says. “We had to fix ceiling leaks, replace drain lines, and replace the floor tile. We also installed carpet in a few areas.” And when she says “we,” she means it. Her husband (who works in construction), his friends, and O’Reel and her family did all of the construction work themselves.
A good move
Southwest Synergy Dance is now located in a busy strip mall that has four chain restaurants, a popular local ice cream shop, a dry cleaner, and a convenience store. “Foot traffic has increased 85 percent since we moved in,” O’Reel says.
The lobby is 1,500 square feet, which gives moms, dads, siblings, and other visitors room to stretch out. O’Reel purchased old hotel furniture so the lobby is furnished with 10 to 15 really comfortable chairs. There is a children’s area set up with four picnic tables and a bunch of toys. The TVs in the lobby play DVDs of past recitals or movies for the kids. “It’s a comfortable setting for families to be in,” O’Reel says.
Behind the front desk is a break room that gives employees a private area to store their belongings and rest between classes. “There is also a spacious bathroom area toward the back with two stalls, which is great for students who need to change for class,” O’Reel says.
Two classrooms of about 1,000 square feet each are equipped with Bluetooth-enabled sound systems. Instructors can also hook up their devices via auxiliary cords, and there are CD players for old-school teachers. The shelves next to the stereos in both classrooms are perfect for props—eliminating the need for preschool or other teachers to store them in a separate area.
There are three viewing windows into one of the classrooms—two on one wall and one from the hallway—and two into the other. Both classrooms are off of this hallway, so if parents have a kid in studio A and a kid in studio B at the same time, they can see them both.
Planning is important. “That’s why we were able to get [the construction work] done so quickly,” O’Reel says. Once permitting was finished, all the construction materials were in place and ready to go.
Most important, “make it comfortable,” she says, so that it’s a space where families want to be.
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.