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From homework to beer, changes on horizon for historic Deer Island School

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSON - Jay and Deborah Meritt stand in front of the Deer Island school. Both retired, they plan to turn the school into a restaurant and pub while still retaining the buildings historic features.Nothing is what it seems: an open space bounded only by railings will become a wall. Small doors will become big doors. An open, concrete floored patio will become a bar.

Jay Meritt, a Scappoose resident, can see it all even as he sits in a folding chair and a breeze blows through the open area he hopes to turn into a pub.

"It's not as hard as it looks," he says.

Jay and his wife, Deborah Merritt, finalized their purchase of the Deer Island School, located off of Highway 30 close to the gas station, from the St. Helens School District earlier this month. They plan to turn the historic building into a restaurant and pub and hope to have it open by Halloween.

The school will get a new paint job, but otherwise it will look pretty much the same to anyone driving by, says Jay, a retired music instructor. Even the Deer Island School sign will remain in place above the front doors. Inside, however, things will change dramatically. The two classrooms will be converted into a kitchen and dining space while a cloakroom hall will lead to a bar, currently a covered space with a concrete floor between the school rooms and the gym. They plan to use local tradesmen for the work, investing locally whenever possible.

The Meritts are retired, but not ready to settle down. When they saw the building advertised for sale in the newspaper, they decided to purchase it.

It sold for $150,000 and the money will go to capital projects, said Janine Salisbury, business manager for the St. Helens School District.

The Meritts believe the restaurant and pub could become a destination for local diners as well as out-of-town visitors. They plan to retain the historical features and school-room feel of the building while serving up satisfying meals. Deborah, a retired fabric artisan who has worked with artist and designer Michael Curry, will be in charge of the kitchen, cooking up steaks and BBQ classics.

"It'll be some place to propose to your girl," Jay said. "Someplace nice."

"Simple, elegant," Deborah added.