NECCA eyes new site in Brattleboro


BRATTLEBORO -- After three years of searching, the New England Center for Circus Arts is close to finalizing a deal on a piece of land off of Putney Road for its new 15,000-square-foot circus school and education center.

NECCA is going before the Development Review Board on Nov. 18 to seek a permit for the new center, which it hopes to build in front of the former Renew Salvage building on Town Crier Drive.

The group has been outgrowing its current school located in the Cotton Mill building almost from the day it opened in 2007 as a non-profit education institution.

Over the last few years NECCA board and staff members tried to build the new school on the New England Youth Theater campus, the Famolare land near the Vermont Agricultural Business Education Center, and above Academy School near Dalem's Chalet.

Each parcel did not work out for one reason or another, project manager Jim Westbrook said.

Now NECCA is close to finalizing a purchase and sale agreement on the approximately three-acre Town Crier Drive piece that Westbrook says will finally allow the group to start raising money for its new circus school.

NECCA will also be applying for a USDA Rural Development grant to help fund the project.

"This is a huge step for us," Westbrook said. "We have jumped through so many hoops, and been through so many fiascoes looking for the right piece of land, to finally get to this point is enormous."

In 2003 circus performers Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion moved to Brattleboro to start Nimble Arts, a circus, dance and aerial art school.

In 2007 the twin sisters formed the non-profit New England Center for Circus Arts and they have been working with aspiring circus performers from all around the world who have traveled to Brattleboro for lessons and to perform.

Westbrook said the group has been frantically searching for the right location for a new school, poring over maps in the assessor's office, searching Google Maps, and driving around looking for vacant buildings and empty plots of land.

A few months ago they found the parcel on Town Crier Drive and began negotiating with the property owner.

The two sides do not yet have a deal, but Westbrook says they are close enough to go before the Development Review Board to seek approval for the project.

He said engineers have been fine tuning the circus center and NECCA is pretty sure it knows what it needs for the new education center.

Raising the money for the $1.3 million project will be the next step.

Westbrook said NECCA wanted to be downtown, but there are very few land options for building a facility as large as what they need.

The Town Crier Drive parcel is in Brattleboro, close to restaurants and hotels, and will give the group plenty of parking options.

"This has been a long and drawn out process and it is very exciting to be this close," Westbrook said. "We really feel like this is within our grasp now and we are almost ready to tell people we have the turf to build this on. Every weekend is big weekend for us and NECCA needs this. We hope this building will be everything we want."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer


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