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Design & Construction Considerations for Cultivation and Processing Operations: Part Two

By Laura Breit, PE & Dylan Carey, EIT

Process equals product when it comes to designing and building a cannabis cultivation or processing operation. A well-executed design and construction process will result in a well-functioning and well-built facility that will yield great product. All too often, growers and processors go through the process of building a facility and discover – too far down the road – that errors have been made or important steps have been skipped. Mistakes like this can result in major expenditures of both time and capital, and can greatly impact an operation’s bottom line.

The Root Engineers team has broken the design-build process into eight distinct phases: owner decisions, pre-design, schematic design, design development, construction documents, permitting, bidding, and the construction phase. Each of these phases warrant an in-depth exploration to highlight the most important considerations for the design and build of a successful cannabis operation. In Part One of this article series, we discussed the owner decisions phase of the design and construction process. Here in Part Two of this three-part series, we dive deep into the design process with the pre-design, schematic design, design development, and construction documents phases.


In this phase of the project, an architect will generally work directly with the end users – or those who will be running the operation on a day to day basis – on facility programming. Facility programming is the process in which information is gathered from the user so that the architect can start to develop floor plans to meet the owner’s goals. In the most successful projects, the owner and end users will develop a set of standards known as the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR). As defined by ASHRAE and National Institute of Building Sciences, the Owner’s Project Requirements “form the basis for evaluating all activities and products during pre-design, design, construction, acceptance, and operational decisions are made.” This document serves as a record to help all parties involved in the project determine their degree of success in meeting the owner’s objectives and criteria.

The architect – often in conjunction with the engineering team – may also begin code research in the pre-design phase to determine the hazard classification of the building, if this hasn’t already been completed.


Once the development of the floor plan has begun, the schematic design phase is officially underway. After the initial floor plans have been completed by the architect, an engineering team should be brought on board (if not already on board) to discuss the requirements for the space. Examples of tasks that occur during this phase: Mechanical engineers will analyze routes for ductwork and space for air handling equipment. Electrical engineers will locate the space to house all electrical equipment and controls. Plumbing engineers will look for the most appropriate areas to route large pipe systems and equipment required for plumbing. The project may require structural engineers to inspect the building for structural stability, which dictates where certain equipment can be placed or where underground plumbing systems can be routed. Civil engineers are also usually a part of the process, who will provide a site plan outlining where city utilities are located in relation to the site. They will also provide guidance on where equipment should be located outside of the building footprint.

These various considerations will lead to the entire team of engineers creating a set of schematic design drawings. Well-run projects will also include a narrative known as the Basis of Design (BOD), which should give an overview of the design intent and relate back to the OPR developed in the pre-design phase. The schematic design drawings and BOD are sent to the owner for review and approval.

To save time and effort, it is important to choose an engineering team with expertise in the disciplines required for your project, as well as specific experience in cannabis cultivation and processing facilities. Engineers with the right experience will know the important questions to ask early on, and will understand the regulatory requirements for your unique facility.


After the owner has reviewed the schematic drawings and provided feedback, the design development phase begins. In this phase, the design team – architect, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) Engineers, structural engineers, and civil engineers – coordinates to begin transforming the schematic drawings into clearer and more detailed plans, similar to what one might see on a construction site. The DD set of drawings generally brings the design to a 50 percent level. This set of plans will include major components of the design, such as equipment size and location and utility connection locations.

It is important to provide as much detail as possible in this phase, and bring up any potential problems early on in the process. Major changes later down the road will be extremely costly and time consuming. Once the design team has completed their 50 percent drawings, the owner will once again review and provide feedback.


The construction documents phase is where the majority of time in the design process is spent. Once again, the entire design team will work closely together to dig deeper into the specific details of the operation design. New questions will be asked, previous assumptions are confirmed or denied, and a comprehensive design begins to take shape. The design team will be exceedingly important in this phase because of all of the coordination across different disciplines. Ensuring the team works well together and maintains strong relationships with one another is a critical consideration.

Engineering teams that have a deep understanding of the process will bring up points of major concern early in the process. Though time consuming, this approach will help to streamline the construction documents phase. Assuming the design timeline allows, the owner will be sent a progress set of drawings to provide feedback on, which will be anywhere from 75 to 90 percent complete. Eventually, a 100 percent completed set will be sent to the owner, including pre-final drawings and specifications. Once all parties have approved the 100 percent set of design drawings, the design team will stamp and seal the documents and distribute them to the owner. At this point the design portion of the process is complete.

At first glance, this process can seem overwhelming and complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. If you take the time to build a trustworthy team of experienced individuals, the process should run smoothly and keep your plans on track. By making these important decisions and learning key information at the right times, business owners will set themselves up for success. Stay tuned for the last part of this three-part series, where we will explore the permitting, bidding, and construction phases.

In Case You Missed It

Design & Construction Considerations for Cultivation and Processing Operations: Part One

Laura Breit, PELaura Breit, PE

Laura Breit, PE

Laura Breit is the founder and owner of Oregon-based firms Root Engineers and ColeBreit Engineering. She is a professional mechanical engineer specializing in the design of HVAC, plumbing, and process systems for the cannabis industry. Using her experience in traditional engineering methods through Root Engineers parent company, ColeBreit Engineering, she applies her team’s depth of knowledge to create efficient and economically sound solutions for cultivation and processing facilities. Taking a custom approach to each project, Laura has experience working in the traditional design-bid-build method, as well as in the design-build arena. She enjoys the dynamic nature of the cannabis industry, and since legalization in her home state of Oregon in 2014, Laura has led her team of mechanical and electrical engineers on more than 80 cannabis-related projects across the country. She thrives on building relationships with building owners, growers, architects, contractors and investors.

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