Whether a cannabis firm is expanding in a current market or entering a new one, staying on schedule for the construction of a new dispensary or cultivation facility is critical for success. Besides the competitive advantage that comes with opening on time, completing a project within a designated timeframe is often a requirement for state licensing. Likewise, delays on a new dispensary or cultivation facility can have serious ramifications in the way of lost revenue or insufficient product supply.
For all of these reasons, it is imperative that cannabis companies not only choose a general contractor (GC) with a proven track record of hitting deadlines, but also understand for themselves the five common culprits that can wreak havoc on a construction schedule, and know how to avoid them.
Construction Culprit 1 – Skimping on Drawings
In a best-case scenario, the architectural and engineered drawings for a new construction project encompass our client’s design intent and also carefully plan for everything from mechanical systems to cosmetic finishes. But in reality, the quality of plans contractors receive at the initial stage of a project varies widely. Clients may not have given their architect or engineer enough time to create a complete set of documents, or simply skimped on drawings by assuming details would be decided along the way.
As an experienced general contractor, we do our best to ask questions and fill in gaps as we review plans and do a site walkthrough, but it’s hard to anticipate every detail of a client’s exact design intent if it’s not on the plans. This can lead to not only costly changes or additions down the road, but also significant project delays due to drawings having to be updated or lots of back and forth between the contractor, client and architect as questions are asked and answered.
The best way to avoid this type of delay is to hire the best architect and engineer you can early in the planning stages. It’s well-worth the investment if it means your GC has the information it needs to keep the project moving forward on time.
Construction Culprit 2 – Not Building in Time for Budgeting
Picture this scenario: a client and designer create a set of plans for a new dispensary and ask the general contractor to provide construction pricing. If the costs the GC provides are higher than the client is expecting, it could potentially take several more rounds of adjusting the plans, value engineering, and re-pricing the project before the budget is finalized. This back and forth can cause significant delays, from two to six weeks or more, before construction even begins.
That’s one reason it’s so valuable for the client and design team to bring the construction partner into the project early on so they can provide current market values and realistic pricing guidelines. By creating a conceptual construction budget concurrently with the design process, we can advise the client on design decisions to help them stay on budget, and ultimately streamline the initial stages of the project so construction can begin sooner.
Construction Culprit 3 – Underestimating Time for Municipal Approval and Permitting
The municipal permitting process is a major timing consideration for any construction project, but especially in the heavily-regulated cannabis sector. This is particularly true in states that have just adopted new laws around the cannabis industry, because there is certain to be a learning curve in the approval and permitting process for new facilities as municipalities work to fully understand state-level regulations as well as what additional guidelines they can apply at the local level.
That makes it exceedingly important that clients not only build in a realistic amount of time for municipal review in their overall schedule – at least eight to 12 weeks in major cities and four to eight weeks in suburbs, assuming no comments to be corrected from the municipality – but also that everyone on the project team, from the cannabis operator to the architect and construction firm, be well-versed in the rules and requirements around marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities. We need to be able to build these facilities to both the client’s and the state’s specifications, as well as assist and work with municipalities as they learn and implement the state regulation.
It’s also helpful for partners on the project to have previous experience with similar projects – especially in the same state – in order to anticipate municipality questions or issues that are likely to arise and head them off if possible.
Construction Culprit 4 – Failure to Plan for Long-Lead Items
On any given construction project, there are sure to be materials that have fixed long-lead times for order and delivery, meaning there’s no opportunity to get the item sooner by paying for accelerated manufacturing or expedited shipping. For example, HVAC units have about a nine-week lead time because most manufacturers build units to spec and don’t keep anything in stock. Specific to the cannabis space, items such as the specialized humidification and irrigation systems required for cultivation facilities can take longer to delivery, as can unique tile or millwork finishes, particularly if they have to be shipped from overseas.
Therefore, cannabis operators and their GC should not only identify those items early in the planning stages and make certain they’re ordered in a timely manner, but also ensure those extended lead times fit in the overall construction schedule. For instance, if you and your designer choose custom flooring for a new recreational dispensary location, and it takes nine weeks to arrive within a 10-week project timeline, that won’t work because it delays other items that can’t be installed until flooring is in. You’ll either have to amend the construction schedule, find an alternative product or deal with delays.
Construction Culprit 5 – Poor Communication
Once construction begins and everyone is on the job site, nothing can derail a completion date faster than poor communication. It is the GC’s responsibility to coordinate and communicate the overall timeline among all the players on a project – including the client, architect/designer and subcontractors – so work progresses in a logical order, trades have access to the site when they need it and materials are delivered on time.
Technology has made the job of sharing construction schedules easier than ever, with most reputable GCs using an online project management platform to provide real time project updates to the full project team. This level of transparency helps keep everyone on the same page, but it’s important that all parties on the project are on board with using the platform of choice and understand the importance of being responsive.
Delays can also arise when there is a communication breakdown between the general contractor, client and architect. For example, if the GC or a subcontractor needs clarification about something on a set of plans after construction has started, work might be halted until the architect responds.
As with most businesses, time equals money when it comes to opening a new cannabis dispensary or cultivation facility. By choosing experienced project partners and being aware of potential scheduling pitfalls, cannabis operators can ensure they hit their target completion date for their next project.