Old Town School dances its way across the street

It's been 10 years since the Old Town School of Folk Music expanded its facilities to the former Hild Library in the heart of Lincoln Square. Student and audience numbers have since doubled, so the institution is planning  a  new $13.5 million facility across the street.

"We are at full capacity at peak times," says Eric Delli Bovi, the school's director of external affairs. "Controlling growth is always an issue."

Though the school is best known for its instrumental offerings, it provides 130 classes every week in dance and movement for adults and children. Currently, those classes are limited to 3 studios at the Lincoln Square location and one studio at the Lincoln Park location.

Dance figures prominently in preliminary plans for the 28,000 square-foot arts presentation and education facility.  The plans include sound-engineered classrooms as well as a variety of dance-friendly features: 5 studios, sprung floors, changing facilities, showers and a performance stage with wings.

The performance area will seat 150 and serve as an additional stage for local artists, student recitals, poetry slams, and a number of other possibilities.

Old Town's current Lincoln Square center is at 4544 North Lincoln. The new facility, expected to open in 2011, will be across the street, between Bridgeview Bank and Riehn Insurance.

Fundraising efforts are in full swing, Delli Bovi says a large part of the initial process has been educating potential donors about the School's dance program. One way they've achieved this is through a video called, "How We Dance." It features clips from a number of dance classes currently offered, and is posted on You Tube.

Individual donors have already pledged $2.1 million toward the $13.5 million dollar goal. After the architectural plans are finished, the school will approach corporations, foundations and government agencies for the meat of the funding.

One reason for the hefty price tag is that the building will be "green." When the OTSFM Administration surveyed staff and students about their "wish list" for the new facility, the number one request was that it be environmentally friendly. Delli Bovi says that they are shooting for the LEED "Gold" rating; the second highest rating in the LEED Green Building Rating System.

"These features require a significant initial investment, but will save on annual energy costs and lessen the environmental impact over the long run," says  Delli Bovi.

The school has conducted parking studies to make sure the area could withstand any additional congestion, says Delli Bovi. The meter lot next to the Bad Dog Tavern will still be available, as will street parking.

Many residents say they support the project.

Elizabeth Illy, who lived in Lincoln Square in 1961 and moved back 10 years ago, says that she supports all of the School's projects.

"My nieces take classes there. The Old Town School of Folk Music is a positive thing," she says. "They keep the arts and music alive in the neighborhood."

Six-year Lincoln Square resident Bernard Mount says, "I think it is good for the community and local businesses."

Jennifer Davis, who just purchased a condo in the area says, "That's great that they're able to expand the dance program. The OTSFM is a great place."

47th Ward Alderman, Gene Schuster also welcomes the addition.

"I am very excited to see the Old Town School of Folk Music respond to the interest of the community by developing expansion plans," he says. "Their goal to create a space dedicated to dance will be another incredible asset to our community."

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