ELLSWORTH — With the backing of a $4-million matching grant from a private foundation and other donors, Woodlawn is embarking on an ambitious building plan to create an event center designed to meet the needs of both the museum and the community.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for Ellsworth,” said Joshua Torrance, Woodlawn’s executive director. “It will be a much-needed function and event space.”
The new space will also allow Woodlawn to display more items from its collection, expand its education programming and bring in traveling exhibits from other museums. It will also include a catering kitchen that could be used during events.
The space should be able to accommodate groups of up to 150 people, for anything from weddings to business meetings.
And while the space itself will be new, the plan is for it to be an homage to Woodlawn’s past. Though the plans and design have not yet been finalized, the vision at this point is to expand the carriage barn behind the Black House to its original size — which is about four times larger than the building there today.
Old photos show the carriage barn originally extended back from the end of the existing structure that is nearest to the croquet field and across the parking lot toward the woods and trails. Torrance said the larger section of the barn was removed in the late 1940s.
“We anticipate recreating it to at least that size,” Torrance said. “We’re really restoring it back to what was once there.”
Torrance said the existing carriage barn is “really in tough shape” due to the presence of powderpost beetles. He said the new space will use as many of the original materials that can be salvaged from that building as possible, though he said the amount of deterioration means that is probably not much.
The façade of the new building facing the Black House will look the same as what visitors see now, and the new space will stretch back toward the woods as the original structure did. Much of the building will be clad in cedar shingles, also matching the original.
The estimated total price tag for the project is $8.2 million, though Torrance was quick to say that does not mean Woodlawn is building an $8-million barn.
A breakdown from Woodlawn shows building construction would cost about $3.5 million, while site work and renovations to existing structures would cost $750,000.
“Soft costs” — design work, permitting, contingencies and other costs — would total almost $2 million, and a $2-million endowment is also planned.
The $4-million challenge grant was announced during a meeting at Woodlawn last week. A group of donors (including a private foundation) that wishes to remain anonymous has pledged to match, dollar-for-dollar, donations to the building campaign up to a total of $4 million.
“We’re thrilled that we have that,” Torrance said. “We’ve been fortunate to get this grant that will go toward this project.”
Torrance said Woodlawn officials identified the need for more space as they worked on their most recent strategic plan. In talking with community leaders, they also realized the city has “great space needs” for functions, gatherings and meetings.
“We thought maybe we could marry our space needs with those of the community,” he said.
Terry Carlisle is president of the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, which manages Woodlawn. She said money has already been raised toward the building project, with full support from board members and one donor alone giving $100,000.
“People are excited about it,” said Carlisle, who is also general manager of The Ellsworth American. Citing an economic impact report that said the project will have “profound and long-lasting impacts” on the Ellsworth area, she added, “This is going to be good for the community.”