HOWARD WEISS-TISMAN , Brattleboro Reformer
BRATTLEBORO -- When Sereneity Smith Forchion is training a student to perform on the trapeze she knows you have to start with both feet on the ground and mark your progress in small steps.
Smith Forchion, a co-founder of The New England Center for Circus Arts, or NECCA, understands that if you are persistent, creative and focused, before long you will be flying through the air.
For the past four years the board members and staff of NECCA have been looking for a location for a new home, and the search has required a similar degree of patience and optimism.
Now, after at least four other potential sites created excitement, but ultimately, disappointment, NECCA’s feet are off the ground in their long quest to build a state-of-the-art circus education center.
NECCA has purchased a parcel of land on Town Crier Drive, near the former Renew Salvage building off of Putney Road, and the organization hopes to build a $1.2 million, 15,000-square-foot circus arts training school.
"We have had this vision and dream for 10 years and there have been a lot of ups and downs along the way," Smith Forchion said. "We’ve had a lot of people help us along this journey and this is a big step for us."
Smith Forchion and her sister Elsie Smith moved to the Brattleboro area in 2003 and started Nimble Arts, a circus training school.
The business grew and in 2007 they formed the non-profit New England Center for Circus Arts, which has been training students in circus arts at their Guilford farm and studio at Cotton Mill.
The group has been looking for a site to build a new training and performance facility.
NECCA currently runs its programs out of four different locations in Brattleboro and their outside trapeze is set up in Guilford.
Over the past few years the organization has it’s eyes on a number of potential sites.
They thought they’d be able to build near the New England Youth Theater campus, but the site did not work.
A site near the Vermont Agricultural Business Education Center was promised to the group, but that deal fell through too.
Over the past two years board and staff members drove around the area looking for a space, and a few months ago they came upon the field off of Putney Road.
NECCA was committed to finding a piece of land that was close to downtown Brattleboro, Smith Forchion said.
"This is a prime location for us," Smith Forchion said. "We wanted our students to have access to downtown."
Smith Forchion said when the new circus center is finished it will draw students from all over the world who will stay in area hotels, eat in restaurants and give downtown merchants business.
While it has taken the organization more than four years to find an appropriate location, the group was able to raise the money for the land purchase during that time and Smith Forchion says it was relatively easy to close on the deal after the proper location was secured.
Raising the more than $1 million needed to build the facility NECCA envisions, Smith Forchion says, is not going to be quite as easy.
"We’ve been working so long to get here, and this is a big deal, but it still feels like just one step and we’re not breaking out the champagne yet," Smith Forchion said. "Now we have to move on to design the building, and raise money. It’s a huge step. It’s exciting, but we are already moving on to the next step."
NECCA hopes to construct what it says will be the first custom built circus arts building in the U.S.
The new facility will have specialized youth rooms, a performance space, a community meeting room, an in ground trampoline and foam pit, and high ceilings for aerial performance.
Now that they have a site, Smith Forchion says, the architect can finalize the design plans for the building.
And with a piece of land they can call their own, NECCA can now go out to donors and begin to raise money for the building.
It is probably going to be a few years before the first spade is plunged into the ground, but Smith Forchion says NECCA hopes to erect its 35-foot flying trapeze at its new location off of Putney Road and maybe hold some performances and events there this coming year.
"We know this is going to be a long-term process and we have no idea how long it is going to take," Smith Forchion said. "It’s hard to go after funding when you don’t have a site, but now we can say this is ours. It opens the door to further conversations and we’ll see where it takes us."