(From left) Kelly Doran, Ezra Hallett, Katy Longley, Laura Fortman, Lon Cardon, Carol Woodcock, Heather Johnson, John Ryan and John Fitzpatrick cut the ribbon on the opening of The Jackson Laboratory-owned Hemlock Lane Apartments in Bar Harbor during a ceremony Aug. 25.   PHOTO COURTESY OF JAX  

JAX cuts ribbon on new employee housing

A group of Hemlock Lane Apartment residents gather for a photo outside one of the new Jackson Laboratory apartment buildings in Bar Harbor after a ribbon cutting Aug. 25 to celebrate the complex’s opening.

BAR HARBOR — Mount Desert Island’s largest employer is tackling the lack of available housing problem head on. 

On Aug. 26, The Jackson Laboratory cut the ribbon on a workforce housing complex. Located off Hemlock Lane in Bar Harbor, the $10-million investment consists of two apartment buildings, each containing 12 units varying in size from one to three bedrooms.  

“The number one issue that we hear from new employees and existing employees at our Bar Harbor site is the difficulty in finding housing,” said Catherine Longley, the lab’s executive vice president and COO. 

Of the 369 jobs offered this year, the lab lost 72 potential candidates, with housing cited as the primary deterrent. 

“So, in order to attract a world-class workforce…we need accessible and proximal housing,” Longley said. 

After a year of planning, construction broke ground in July of 2021. But the conceptual design for the building dates back to 1965, when a trustee made recommendations on how to solve the housing problem after conducting an employee survey. 

Now over 40 researchers, administrators and animal care workers can call Hemlock Lane home, and they are within walking distance of the lab’s campus.   

“As someone who is actually going to be moving in, it would be an understatement to say that I was relieved when I found out about it,” said new tenant and lab employee Ezra Hallett. 

A Bar Harbor native and College of the Atlantic graduate, Hallett began his housing search in the spring. When he had no luck on island, his hunt moved as far as an hour off island. 

Without a home base on MDI, his coaching position at MDI High School and role as secretary of the board of directors at the local YMCA slipped into the rearview mirror. 

“Projects like this give me hope that these housing hurdles can eventually be overcome,” Hallett said. 

Owned by The Jackson Laboratory and operated by the Bar Harbor Housing Authority, the 24 apartments were awarded by lottery, with a current waitlist of 20 lessees. 

Rent for a one-bedroom unit is $1,100 per month, a two bedroom runs $1,500 per month and three bedrooms go for $1,950 per month. The 35-acre parcel of land also features an open outdoor community space, a shared storage building and parking. 

Tenants can move in Sept. 1. 

“We’re not going to be able to survive unless we can address this housing situation,” said Lon Cardon, the lab’s president and CEO. “And this is really, for us, just a start.” 

Later this year, the biomedical research institution will begin construction on a new child care facility along with launching four additional buses with Downeast Transportation to accommodate worker commutes. 

“JAX has taken a leadership role of really connecting all of those pieces…child care, transportation, housing and quality jobs,” said Laura Fortman, commissioner for Maine Department of Labor. “In order to be that employer of choice, you really need to be providing all of those things.”   

Victoria DeCoster

Victoria DeCoster

Victoria DeCoster covers the Bar Harbor area including town boards and committees. She recently moved to the island after graduating from Syracuse University last year. Contact Victoria with tips and story ideas at [email protected].

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