Getting back on their feet in wake of fire Dance studio, school lost homes WEST COLUMBIA

August 11, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Directors of a dance studio and a preschool displaced by the Aug. 2 fire at the Bryant Woods Neighborhood Center say they are determined to bounce back quickly.

"We want people to know we're not out of business," said Mary Harper, who owns Backstage Dance Studio with her sister, Diane Andrews. "This might be a setback, but we can overcome it.

"We work best under pressure. This has devastated the studio, but not our lives."

Backstage opened for its third summer camp session and fall class registration Monday in temporary quarters in the Wilde Lake Village Center a week after an arson fire destroyed the studio, the adjoining preschool and a swimming pool building.

As of yesterday, investigators have made no arrests in the fire, which caused $250,000 in damage, said Bob Thomas, deputy chief state fire marshal. "There's been progress in the case," he said.

The Bryant Woods Montessori Children's House, a nonprofit preschool for children ages 3 to 6, will start classes in Columbia on Sept. 7 as scheduled, said administrator Harjit Bhandhel.

Backstage rented 3,000 square feet, formerly occupied by a 7-Eleven store, in the Bryant Woods building from Columbia Management Inc., a division of the Rouse Co. The owners are working with the Rouse Co. to find a permanent location and are close to reaching an agreement on a 4,000-square-foot site in Columbia, Ms. Andrews said.

The Montessori school has been aided by Columbia Management, the Columbia Association and commercial real estate brokers in its search for new space, Ms. Bhandhel said. The school, which has morning and afternoon classes for 25 children per session, rented 1,500 square feet in the neighborhood center and had been there since it opened in 1970.

"We will open on target in Columbia," Ms. Bhandhel said.

Backstage's owners had just completed a six-week renovation of the studio the week before the fire. A third dance room, a new impact-absorbing floor, new walls, a new lobby and new carpet -- work estimated to have cost $10,000 or more -- was destroyed by smoke, water damage and a caved-in roof.

"Seven years ago it was a 7-Eleven. We got the building without one student," Ms. Harper said. "We re-did the whole building from the ground up. To watch it disappear is heartbreaking, especially when we spent the summer making it better."

The owners salvaged business records and stored other items, such as stereo equipment, that might be usable, Ms. Andrews said. She said she is coping with the disaster with an "optimistic point of view."

"It's been a horrendous week, but maybe it's a blessing in disguise," she said. "We had a lovely studio. We can have an even better one."

The Backstage owners said parents of dance students and the Rouse Co. have been supportive.

"I feel like they're family I've been with them so long," said Leslie Wallace of Hickory Ridge. Her daughter, Lindsay, 12, has taken lessons at the studio since it opened. "They're really very courageous. Of course, they're depressed it happened, but they have the attitude to rebuild.

"They feel worst about inconveniencing anyone. That's why they're working fast to rebuild the studio. They know how many people rely on them and that they're an important part of a lot of kids' lives."

The Montessori school lost all of its equipment -- estimated to be worth $130,000 -- which was tailored to children depending on their ages and skills, Ms. Bhandhel said.

The school is run by parents, who volunteer for board positions. Fortunately for the school, Ms. Bhandhel said, the last board was "conscientious in updating insurance. Financially, we'll be fine."

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