BRATTLEBORO — After nearly 10 years of continuous growth, New England Center for Circus Arts is constructing a new place to call home.
"This is an incredible, very fine thing we are about to do – this state-of-the-art, one and only, custom-built trapezium in the United States, in the one and only Brattleboro," NECCA Board President Kate Anderson said at the groundbreaking ceremony Thursday, where red clown noses were handed out to people before shovels hit the dirt.
A new building going up on a 3-acre parcel at 10 Town Crier Drive on Putney Road is expected to bring more safety and accessibility to the school. The project is scheduled to take place in two phases.
The trapezium building, with a ceiling height of about 40 feet and a trampoline, will come first. The 8,600-square-foot gymnasium for circus arts training and performances should be ready for occupancy by June 2017. Administrative offices, lobby and reception room also are planned for construction in this part of the project.
The next phase will bring in a campus, additional studios, offices, landscaping and outdoor performance spaces.
Anderson pointed at NECCA's "rapid growth and reputation for first-class circus arts training" as part of the urgent need for the facility.
"We are bursting at the seams at 6,000 students," Anderson said. "The ceiling's half the height we need and columns in the middle of the trainings space doesn't work."
Gov. Peter Shumlin called the project "a huge moment" for Windham County. He said Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion, twins and co-founders of NECCA, will soon be awarded the Vermont Council of the Arts Award for Excellence.
A $350,000 loan was obtained by the circus school through the Windham County Economic Development Program, which was the result of a settlement between nuclear plant Vermont Yankee owner Entergy and the state of Vermont. The purpose of funding the program was to aid in the closure of the plant, Shumlin told attendees.
"This is a good business plan. This creates jobs, economic development, opportunity, but most importantly, it changes kids' lives," Shumlin said while also noting support for the project from Brattleboro Savings & Loan. "Without the arts, we would not have the life we have in the state of Vermont."
NECCA started thinking about expansion in 2010. The goal was to find a larger space with higher ceilings, and plenty of room for training, workspace and performances. A capital campaign to raise $2.5 million was launched in 2014. Still needed is $1.3 million.
Former Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation Executive Director Jeff Lewis served as the landlord for the circus school. He said it made him "strong" and "wise." The BDCC rents out space to the group at the Cotton Mill.
Lewis recalled two faculty members at NECCA had purchased homes in Brattleboro about two or three years ago. Every year, he said, 20 or 25 new start-ups are launched from the circus school.
"Each one is a little business on its own that's creating revenue, that has to learn how things work, that has to find business, reach out and do things," Lewis said, referring to the performers. "It's fascinating. This circus, this center of art and performance, has economic ripples and ramifications in town as it draws people here. There are 30 people who teach there, not full time, but all year. Many of them perform part-time away from here. It brings people from around the world here."
Carole Kosover, of Merrick, N.Y., said she came to Brattleboro on Thursday just for the groundbreaking ceremony. She first witnessed the school's Circus Spectacular at Latchis Theatre.
"I just fell in love. I just think it's great what they do for the kids," Kosover told the Reformer. "I think it's so exciting. These two twins built an empire. Now, they're building a building."
Smith said she was "incredibly grateful" to all the attendees.
"It is starting to look like a real circus around here, don't you think?" her sister Forchion said. "Look at these amazing excavating machines. There's a giant stilt walker if you haven't noticed back there."
"It's a circus around here" is often a negative reference, Forchion said. At NECCA, it's a good thing.
"Circus means community, coming together and helping each other to greater and greater heights. Circus means jumping through rings together to get the job done. Circus means juggling lots of balls in the air and doing it with grace and beauty. And circus means daring to dream beyond the perceived normal, stretching your limbs and bending over backwards to achieve what is impossible," Forchion said. "But nothing is impossible in the circus."
Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.