Portland circus college eyes opening in Sept. 2015

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PORTLAND — Start-up of the city’s fledgling circus college is taking shape.

Peter Nielsen, president of the Circus Conservatory of America, said Monday that construction of the planned 48,000-square-foot training complex at Thompson’s Point will begin later this year, and the school will open its doors about a year later in September 2015.

The school’s first bachelor of fine arts program, however, will kick off a year after that, in September 2016.

Earlier this month, Nielsen also announced two high-profile partnerships with long-standing local institutions: Mercy Hospital and Maine College of Art.

Mercy Hospital will provide sports medicine services and training to conservatory students, while MECA will offer general studies in humanities, science and visual arts.

Mercy Hospital will provide a full-time physical therapist to help students learn to prevent injuries. The partnership is both practical and educational, Nielsen said.

“Any college athletic program has athletic trainers,” he said. “We will have the same here.”

Those trainers would be on hand to treat injuries, but also to teach students how to prevent injuries – an aspect that will eventually grow into classes.

Robert Nutter, chief operating officer at Mercy Hospital, said the partnership makes sense.

“We see the goals of the Conservatory and Mercy in strategic alignment,” Nutter said in a news release. “We will work together to create a culture of fitness at the Conservatory and throughout Maine.”

MECA will provide conservatory students with access to core classes in literature, anthropology, history, business, natural science, plus art and design.

Ian Anderson, vice president of academic affairs at the college, said Monday the partnership is a win-win for both institutions, in terms of both business and student life.

The partnership will provide MECA with a new revenue source and the conservatory with less need for classroom infrastructure.

There are also intangible benefits, Anderson said: MECA – a small college with about 400 students – has the benefit of being a close-knit community, but sometimes lacks a diversity of opinion that are available at colleges with a wider range of majors. Adding circus students to the mix can shake that up.

“Anything I can do to increase the diversity of perspectives in the classroom is a positive for the college,” he said, adding that collaborations between the schools could also result in new directions for students of either discipline.

For the conservatory’s first year, the school will offer single-semester programs, certificate programs and more until the bachelor of fine arts program is launched, Nielsen said.

“That allows us to phase in our offerings and ramp up with a little more grace, if you will,” he said.

The overall plan hinges on the ability of two separate entities to raise funds, Nielsen said.

Over the next four years, the non-profit conservatory needs to raise about $5 million to cover operating costs, equipment and other expenses for the school. In the meantime, Nielsen is building a group of “socially responsible investors” who will create a for-profit partnership to fund construction of the $12 million facility.

Nielsen said Monday that the effort is progressing well.

“It’s all happening,” he said. “We’ve had considerable progress on both of those fronts.”

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.

Sidebar Elements

Kia-Melinda Eastman, 22, dangles midair during a demonstration of aerial acrobatics in this photo from an Aug. 15, 2013, press conference announcing the creation of the Circus Conservatory of America at Thompson’s Point in Portland.