The owner of Merry Barn, the former dance hall on River Road in Edgecomb, plans to transform it into a literacy center for children and teachers after she receives approval from the Edgecomb Planning Board.
A public hearing on Stephanie McSherry’s application for a change of use will take place at the town hall at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 6.
McSherry, of Newcastle, has more than 20 years of experience in New England schools, as a classroom teacher, a literacy coach and specialist, and in staff development.
She bought Merry Barn three years ago from Joe and Lisa McSwain. Joe McSwain had used the barn as a base for a steeplejack business.
“This building has a life of its own,” McSherry said. “I feel like it’s waiting to be brought back to life.”
In 1768, Joseph Merry acquired the property, which was passed down through the Merry family, according to Edgecomb Historical Society volunteer Darby Langdon. The Merry family owned the house across the street from the barn.
Howie Davison, a relative of the Merry family, eventually acquired the farm and started a dance hall in the 1950s.
“This barn has an incredible history of being central to this community and I would love for it to be that way again,” McSherry said.
If the planning board approves the change of use, the barn would become a center for learning, writing, and gathering. McSherry hopes the place will become “a haven and a sanctuary for creativity and exploring things that you are curious and passionate about.”
McSherry plans to host weeklong “summer writing adventures” for children of different ages. She plans to have similar camps during school vacations as well.
She wants to create opportunities for professional development for teachers, schools, and districts. In addition, the space would become a community gathering spot for rent.
“There are lots of possibilities that I’m still trying to figure out,” she said.
McSherry now works as an independent literacy consultant under the name Merry Barn Writers’ Retreat & Educational Consulting LLC. She provides graduate-level courses and literacy workshops in local schools.
She also works as a lecturer at the University of Southern Maine’s Center for Professional Development. She works part time for Midcoast Literacy, where she facilitates family literacy programs with local Head Start centers.
She previously worked four years as a literacy teacher leader at Bowdoin Central School.
McSherry wants to preserve as much of Merry Barn as possible.
“I want to do it in a way that is respectful to the building and the town,” she said of the planned renovations.
Neal Groton, of Boothbay’s Groton Construction Co., is the contractor. Dan Phelps, of Damariscotta’s Phelps Architects Inc., is the architect.
The Merry Barn has a basement and two floors. The first floor will have a small classroom area, a living room, a kitchen, an open area with tables and chairs, and a handicapped-accessible bathroom.
On the second floor, McSherry wants to have two large meeting rooms available for rent for workshops. This part of the project will come later, in about two years, she said.
The basement will be used for storage.
The barn’s sliding doors will stay in place, but will be opened. Double glass doors will be installed in their place and used as the main entrance.
A handicapped-accessible ramp entrance will be built on the east side of the building. The parking area will be gravel.
Behind the barn will be an outdoor classroom for writing surrounded by wildflowers.
If the planning board approves the project, McSherry plans to have work complete by the end of May and for the center to open in the summer.