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. In Part Two, we took a deep dive into the design process with the pre-design, schematic design, design development and construction documents phases. In the final part of this three-part series, we begin to discuss the construction process with permitting, bidding and construction phases.
PHASE 6: PERMITTING
Note: In order to minimize timelines, phase 6 and 7 are often addressed concurrently.
Once complete, the construction documents will be submitted to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) for permitting. The AHJ will review the plans to make sure they meet all required building codes and other important regulations. When their review is complete, they will send feedback to the design team that may or may not require changes. The design team will make the necessary changes and send the plans back to the AHJ. There may be multiple rounds of review and changes before the plan is approved and granted a permit. Although highly dependent on the AHJ’s review process, business owners can expect that an experienced design team will provide an expeditious route through the permitting process, saving the project time and money.
Once the permit has been granted, construction on the project can officially begin.
PHASE 7: BIDDING
The first step in the build phase is to send out the completed design plans to be bid on by contractors. If the owner chooses to use the design-build process instead of the design-bid-build process, this phase is often skipped completely. If design-bid-build, contractors will review the design documents and present a cost (i.e. bid) for the complete construction of the project, and the owner makes a contractor selection.
If the project bids are over-budget, the operation may complete a step known as value engineering (VE), where contractors or the design team attempt to find comparable products that will still meet the intent of the original design. Equipment selection is an integral step in the design process, so use caution when making changes and be sure to consult your engineering team to make sure new equipment selections fit with the design intent and meet code requirements. There may be additional design fees associated with a VE phase. If value engineering does occur, the contractor’s bid will be revised, and the entire project may need to be re-submitted to the permitting department.
PHASE 8: CONSTRUCTION PHASE
There are seven steps in the construction process, the details of which are outside the scope of this article: site work, foundation, structure, envelope, interiors, commissioning. An important initial step as it relates to the tie between the design and construction is the submittal process. During this process, the contractor will send the design team submittals, which are comprised of shop drawings, cut sheets and lists of construction materials to be used in the build. The architects and engineers will review these submittals to confirm that all materials, fixtures, and equipment meet the design intent and specifications set forth in the construction documents. Similar to the old adage “measure twice, cut once”, the submittal process ensures that the design and construction teams are on the same page prior to installation. Once all of the materials are reviewed and approved, the contractor will order the materials and installation can begin.
An important checkpoint during construction is “rough-in”, meaning the systems are installed except for the final connections (such as plumbing fixtures or air terminal devices.) At this time, the AHJ will send inspectors to conduct a site visit to ensure that all systems are being installed as designed. There are generally two rough-in points: one early on for under slab (underground) work, and another for aboveground work. It is advisable to have your design team visit the site at this time as well to address any differences in installation from the design documents with the installing contractors.
Once construction is complete, the AHJ will conduct a final inspection and the building will be commissioned. Commissioning is the process in which all internal systems (waste, water, HVAC, gas, electrical, etc.) are tuned and adjusted to perform as designed. This includes considerations like balancing the HVAC system to provide the intended air volume to each space, or balancing the valves in the water systems to provide the correct amount of water volume to each space. There are varying levels of commissioning and which level is right for your project will depend on the complexity of the systems.
The engineering team will review the final commissioning reports, provide their approval, and the building will be deemed complete.
The design and construction process can seem overwhelming, but when equipped with the right knowledge and the right team, business owners can avoid timely and costly mistakes. By making the right decisions at the right times and ensuring all of the work is done correctly the first time around, a cannabis cultivation facility will have completed a process that will result in the desired end product and business success.
In Case You Missed It