This architectural drawing shows what a planned new dormitory on the College of the Atlantic campus in Bar Harbor might look like. The project is aimed at providing COA students with more on-campus housing options and shielding them from runaway housing prices on Mount Desert Island. Credit: Courtesy of OPAL Architecture

To help insulate its students from soaring housing costs on Mount Desert Island, College of the Atlantic is planning to build a new residential hall to house nearly 50 students.

The college, located near downtown Bar Harbor, has an enrollment cap of 350 full-time students, of whom there is room for 168 to live on school grounds. The new dormitory, planned for the south end of the campus near other residential halls, will allow them to expand how many students they can have living on campus.

It will have room for 47 people, which would bring the school’s on-campus residential capacity to 215 students.

The school, which was founded in 1969, has long had a history of having students live off campus, but has periodically increased its on-campus living options for students over the past 30 years. In 1995, it opened the 56-bed Blair/Tyson residence hall, and in 2008 it completed construction of the Davis residential village, which can house up to 51 students.

The need to provide more on-campus housing has become more acute in the past decade, as housing prices in Bar Harbor and elsewhere on MDI have soared. Living off campus has gotten more expensive.

“As the rental and real estate markets have evolved over the past several years, creating more student housing has become one of our top priorities,” said Darron Collins, the college’s president.

There has long been high demand among wealthy summer residents for second homes on the island, but the local booming tourism industry has pushed prices even higher as employers compete to find housing for their workers, and as the popularity of weekly vacation rentals on MDI has essentially turned every house or apartment on the island into a potential commercial property.

In 2018, the median price for a home in Bar Harbor was $316,500 — more than $100,000 higher than the median price for both Hancock County and the state as a whole, according to Maine State Housing Authority. Last year, the local median price for a home was $520,000, which was $195,000 higher than the county’s median price and $225,000 higher than the state’s median price.

To help make housing easier for its students to find, two years ago COA bought six townhouse apartments on an abutting property from The Bayview Inn, which it now rents to students during the school year and to tourists in the summer. This summer it plans to open the Mount Desert Center in the Mount Desert village Northeast Harbor, which will add another 15 beds.

All told, the added facilities are expected to provide housing for 290 students, or 83 percent of the student body, college officials said.

“The COA student housing plan greatly increases our capacity on campus, and, along with other recent developments, should go a long way toward helping us provide a productive and beneficial living and learning environment,” Collins said.

The new building will be built to high energy efficiency standards and have solar panels mounted on its roof. It will have nearly 12,000-square-foot of floor space and will include  double- and single-occupancy rooms, a fully outfitted community kitchen, large common area with exposed mass-timber beams, and a covered outdoor area, college officials said.

COA officials hope to have the project completed by the fall of 2023.

The project is expected to be part of a broader, but gradual, goal to rearrange much of the school’s 36-acre shorefront campus. The school’s new $13 million Center for Human Ecology academic building, which opened last year, is considered part of that larger effort.

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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....