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Joe Conway and Holden Orler, ARCO/Murray

The benefits and challenges of retrofitting cannabis facilities

“Retrofitting a cannabis facility can save costs and time. At the same time, each cultivation facility is unique in its needs. Very rarely does an existing building have all of the utilities required for the operation,” said Joe Conway and Holden Orler, Senior Project Managers of ARCO/Murray’s CEA team. The design-build company has been in the industry for over 20 years, providing construction services from preconstruction through commissioning and warranty. Working on both ground-up construction and retrofits of existing facilities, Joe and Holden share some important aspects companies should consider.

Joe Conway and Holden Orler

Saving time and money
According to Joe, one of the major benefits of retrofitting is having the structure already available. “There has been quite a bit of chaos in the industry concerning structures and lead times. It’s a challenge to make sure things can start on the right timeline. Therefore, having that structure in place is a huge benefit.” He explains that having utilities that are already brought to your site, especially electrical, is also a major time saver. “On new construction, electrical utilities can take up to 2-3 years at the moment. So, if you already have an existing electrical service, you can use that right away. If the service isn’t large enough, it might be easier to upgrade it than to provide a brand-new one. We notice that the cost savings and faster timelines are the major drivers of people choosing to retrofit.”

Yet, there are also some challenges associated with retrofitting, Holden explains. “A cultivation facility is unique in its needs and is designed to meet those needs precisely. If an operator is moving into an existing facility, they can be met with challenges in upgrading the existing facility to support the unique needs of your operation. For example, with cultivation facilities, there tends to be a lot of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and irrigation equipment and piping that is suspended from the roof structure or on top of the roof structure. Generally speaking, existing roof structures are not designed to accommodate those loads, so the structure will have to be reinforced. When building a new facility from the ground up, the necessary capacity is built into the design on the front end.”

“Utilities are also a big factor in evaluating existing facilities. If the utility infrastructure is there, it can save a lot of time, but very rarely does the existing building have the utility capacity that is required for a full-scale CEA operation.”

Oftentimes, operators want to expand their capacity in an existing facility. “This also provides some challenges,” Holden said. “It is important to maintain a clear separation between clean and dirty spaces. There are also challenges in ensuring that all the security and state regulations are followed. This requires close coordination between the construction and operating teams throughout the build.”

Getting a jump-start
Because ARCO/Murray is there as a partner from project conception to completion, they can help companies solve these challenges. “We try to gain an understanding of the utility requirements before completing the design process in order to jump-start the coordination with the utility companies,” Joe said. “We’re starting that process as early as possible rather than waiting until the drawings are done.”

“The same thought process applies to the procurement strategy,” Holden said. “While existing buildings can help eliminate some long lead items like site permitting, structure, and roofing, there are still certain elements that must be procured early in order to complete construction and begin operating the facility. Items like electrical gear have lead times of over a year in some instances.”

ARCO utilizes its global supply chain network to mitigate these types of risks early in the process in order to remove long lead items from the critical path, allowing for faster speed to market for its operating partners.

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