ELLSWORTH — The Jackson Laboratory will be back before the city’s planning board this week for final approval of its project that will transform the former Lowe’s big-box store into the headquarters of its East Coast mouse production work.
John Fitzpatrick, the lab’s senior director of facilities, said the target date for the opening of what is officially known as a vivarium is now March 3, 2018.
The goal, the lab said in its application to the city, is to create a facility that will “provide the highest health status, most characterized and genetically stable, pathogen free mouse models to the worldwide biomedical community.”
The lab got approval to do initial work at the site, including removing the old garden center area, from the city previously. Fitzpatrick said crews have been working on that area already, and they also earlier removed the distinctive peaked-roof façade that identified the building as having once been home to a Lowe’s store.
Fitzpatrick said the lab is expecting steel components to begin arriving around the end of this month, and that after that work will “start going vertical.”
The lab is set to appear before the Ellsworth Planning Board at 7 p.m. today, Wednesday, Jan. 4. If the board grants final approval to the project at that point, Fitzpatrick said work will then expand to filling out the interior of the building, putting a new façade on it, installing lighting and, as weather allows, make grounds and landscaping improvements.
This phase of the project carries a price tag of $73.5 million, according to the lab, and will be paid for “by a combination of federal and private sources.”
The renovation work will eventually include all of the building’s approximately 148,000-square-foot floor area, according to the lab’s application. In addition to space for mouse production, there will also be space for materials processing, mechanical support and administrative offices.
Fitzpatrick said this phase of work will involve fitting out about 50 to 55 percent of the building, but will initially only hold about 25 percent of the overall mouse production capacity. That is because necessary infrastructure such as the boiler plant, chiller plant and materials production must be done first.
The first round of mouse boxes will number 16,800, according to the application at City Hall, while an additional 51,200 boxes will be installed later for a total of 68,000 boxes.
At the Planning Board’s last meeting in December, Norm Burdzel from the lab said the lab’s facility will be surrounded by a fence for security purposes.
He said an existing 6-foot-high chain link fence will remain on the back and side of the property, while the fence along the front of the property will be an ornamental iron fence, which also will be 6 feet high. That is according to draft minutes from the Dec. 7 meeting.
Sarah Nicholson of Woodard & Curran, which is working with the lab on the project, said there also will be an 8-foot-high “green screen” fence to shield the view of the city’s pump station located near the front of the property.