A worker walks across an overhanging roof above the entrance to The Jackson Laboratory's Charles E. Hewett Center in Ellsworth, Maine while another hoses it down on in this October 2020 file photo. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

ELLSWORTH, Maine — The Jackson Laboratory is two-thirds of the way through its $245 million renovation project of a local former big-box store and expects to have the third and final phase completed years earlier than expected.

Jackson Lab now expects to complete the transformation of the former Lowe’s building into its primary mouse production facility by the end of 2023, nearly three years ahead of its original anticipated completion date of 2026, lab officials said.

The lab also recently hired its 125th employee at the mouse vivarium, which is named the Charles E. Hewett Center, after its former chief operating officer. The lab, one of the largest employers in eastern Maine, employs more than 1,700 people in Maine, most of whom work at its primary location in Bar Harbor.

Jackson Lab uses mice to study human health and reproduces specialty strains of bioengineered mice that it sells to medical research facilities around the world.

Lab officials have said they anticipate having approximately 350 workers in Ellsworth by the time the time the project at the 300,000 square-foot building on Beechland Crossing Road is finished.

When Jackson Lab bought the former Lowe’s building in October 2012 for $3.2 million, one of its major goals in expanding to Ellsworth was to shorten the commute for hundreds of its Bar Harbor workers who live off of Mount Desert Island. Ellsworth city officials have actively recruited Jackson Lab, which is a not-for-profit organization, to the city to increase the amount of local jobs.

“The hiring of the 125th employee just a few years into the timeline represents a milestone that should be celebrated, not only because of the number of people already hired, but also because of the expectation of even more high-quality jobs to come,” said Janna Richards, Ellsworth’s economic development director.

The first phase of the building conversion project, estimated to cost $75 million, was  completed in 2018. The second phase cost roughly the same amount, while the third phase is expected to cost nearly $100 million to complete.

Globally, the laboratory has more than 2,400 employees who work in Maine, Connecticut, California, China and Japan. This includes approximately 250 employees who have been working for Charles River Laboratories’ mouse breeding program in Japan, which was acquired by Jackson Lab this fall.

Details about the price Jackson Lab paid to acquire the Japan operation were unavailable Monday.

“This acquisition advances our mission to empower biomedical research worldwide and to play an even more direct role in Japan as well as Korea and Taiwan while advancing our international growth strategy,” said Auro Nair, who serves as executive vice president of Jackson Lab and president of its JAX Mice Clinical and Research Services division.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....