In December of 2018, the State of Michigan voters approved recreational use cannabis, thus sparking many communities that were guarded to the ever-changing legalities to begin shifting their ordinances and policies to appropriately plan for opening their doors to the anticipated growing business. With that, the team at Construction Simplified became an early adapter to understanding the changing dynamic for West Michigan communities and knew that our focus on clear and effective communication, would be the catalyst in planning that would benefit those looking to establish business here.
Our very first client was a small group of assembled business entrepreneurs looking to build a large, lifestyle cannabis brand called Fluresh. They had plans to locate the business headquarters in Grand Rapids given their founder’s roots, a remarkable piece of real estate that fit the need in terms of location, size, and utilities, and the fact that the Grand Rapids market was in the early stages of this industries’ growth. We were first onboarded as an Owner’s Rep / Consultant to guide them through the detailed design and systems integration, as well as navigate and co-lead the multiple city meetings to gain full licensing approval. Given our display of leadership during that time, the Fluresh team’s developed great confidence in our furtherance of the mission and welcomed us in becoming their Construction Partner, well ahead of full and final city approval.
The building at 1213 Wallen Ave SW started as a 200,000+ square foot manufacturing and warehousing facility just on the south side of the urban core. With access directly off the major highway that dissects the city, the sprawling 9.5 acre site dominates the aging industrial area. The city had utilized their leverage of site selections to force hopeful operators to make large site improvements to facilities like this and thus becoming the spark for re-investment in the approved areas. Also, the old structure needed major structural improvements throughout to ensure its footprint could be leveraged as much as possible, as no additional parcels could be created for future industry growth.
Construction Simplified strategically broke down the project into multiple phases to bring clarity, focus, and a solid plan to achieve the milestone goals the client had laid out in front of us.
- The first goal was revenue, and to achieve that, we needed to construct the Provisioning Center first. This would establish their presence and be the front door of the facility as it also blended the secured entrances for the forward-facing Cultivation.
- The client also had immediate goals to make a great first impression on the city and it’s patrons as they wanted to be the first establishment to be open in the city. CS had to actively rebuild the entire site as well as update the 75,000 SF of exterior skin of metal, windows, and masonry.
- Parallel to this major portion of the work, the client desired to get a jump start on the first phase of the cultivation space totaling more than 45,000 square feet., what we reference as Grow Phase 1. This initial cultivation phase not only included the initial Mother’s, Clone, and Vegetation, and the first (3) Flower rooms totaling 10,000 square feet of canopy, but it also housed the entire four-phase infrastructure in terms of electrical service, domestic water and fire services, and the 5,000 square foot fertigation room.
- Phase 2A & 2B would be next which blends an additional 10,000 square feet of cultivation on Level 1 as well as an added mezzanine level footprint housing all Post Harvest activities totaling 16,750 SF. These spaces were constructed above and below an earlier constructed mezzanine floor level installed in the building’s hi-bay space.
- Finally, Phase 3 of Cultivation, which adds another 50,000 square feet of cultivation space, would be housed in the modern era pre-engineer portion of the building located to the south. This SF allows for an additional (9) flower rooms totaling nearly 5,000 SF each.
Provisioning Center & Exterior Improvements:
The raw space of the old Bentler Automotive factory is what itinually ignited Fluresh’s founder with the passionate vision to go all in on making this facility what it was to become. Fluresh’s front door would be a nearly 5,000 SF Provisioning Center with timber bow trusses, original wood structured ceilings, and polished concrete floor welcoming patrons to experience their high-quality brand through the environment we were to create.
To start, the team at CS had to create 2-hour rated demising walls to separate the PC from the cultivation due to the State of Michigan MRA requirements. Challenging to this was the dual-accessed and planned Secured Waste, Secured Delivery and Grow Product Vault that intertwined through the floor plate allowing different functions depending on who was occupying the space. By creating “man-traps” with intricate card access and security camera installations, we ultimately were able to satisfy the MRA Regulations with ease.
In order to gain the City of Grand Rapids’ use approval as cannabis prior to occupancy, we also had a significant site package to complete in the same short timeframe as the PC. Or team appropriately sequenced the construction of the new vestibule, all new ballistic glass windows and doors, as well as restoring the masonry elevations and repainting the entire 200,000 SF facility’s exterior. Along with this, the entire parking lot was rebuilt, irrigated, and landscaped to allow for the proper flow of future cultivation and PC traffic. Sitework was completed and approved the by City in September while the PC was to be turned over the immediately following December.
Finally, the third challenge with this portion of work was achieving the high-end interior finishes and style. This interior is where the unique character, and ultimately brand awareness of the product they were cultivating, was to shine. The interior design firm specialized in high-end retail and knowing this , the team at CS chose to partner with Showbest Fixture Corp, a millwork firm out of Virginia, to build sleek custom showcases and fixtures that would surpass the design direction. Blending aesthetics, materials, display, and security, was no easy feat but early coordination and the essence of design/build ensured that when installed int eh finished space, the millwork would show off and function as planned.
Although it may have appeared seamless and simple to many, the team at Construction Simplified is quite proud of the first completed phase at Fluresh. Not only does it show really well, especially when knowing first-hand the challenges it took to overcome, but we were able to easily gain approval on the multiple layers of complex regulations put in place by the state to ensure each Provisioning Center operates in full legality, as planned, and was the first in the City of Grand Rapids to welcome patrons.
Cultivation Phase 1 & Facility Infrastructure
It is without a doubt that the first phase of cultivation and total facility infrastructure was the most complex and challenging, but when completed, would set the stage for simplicity and repetition when focusing on constructing additional flower room after flower room, now that the hardest part was completed. How so… Phase 1 encompassed nearly 50,000 SF of the entire seed-to-sale process of the cannabis lifecycle, just not at the scale that was ultimately shown on the four-phase master plan.
The work started as noted previous with separation of the Provisioning Center and the exterior improvements required for cannabis use, however those formed a grey line when interacting with the boundaries of the cultivation. Parallel to this work, the first major requirement was to get the appropriately sized utilities including power, gas, water, and sewer into the building. For power, CS worked with the utility provider to plan what would become an 8-month lead time for high-voltage lined power to replace the low voltage service. This would serve a 4,000 switch gear for Phase 1/ and provide enough capacity for the future Phase 3 & 4 switches as well. For water, we had to provide an updated fire service given the outdated system and new intended use as well as establish (2) new domestic services that would provide enough flow for the fertigation requirements and the normal occupant use. Finally, and most complex, was the sewer. The City of GR required all cannabis grow facilities to be part of the Industrial Pretreatment Program (IPP) which required the CS team to design/build a separate “process” waste system that could be monitored from exterior sampling ports to ensure water quality when leaving the facility. We were the first to navigate this requirement with the city and subsequently, created a positive relationship with the municipality.
The next major portion of this build was constructing all of the support spaces and functions for the total facility. Most importantly, we built a 5,000 SF Fertigation room that houses 3.5 days of treated RO water in case of future shortages including an automated fertigation system to all rooms. This room also housed (2) different reclamation systems; one reclaiming the condensate from the flower room dehumidifiers and the second reclaiming the table run-ff from the plants. Both reclaim sources would be cleaned, RO’d, and re-fertilized to be used once again. Beyond the Fertigation room, CS constructed 12,400 SF of actual grow process rooms, starting with Mothers, Clones, Veg, and (3) flower rooms. Finally, the remaining 30,000+ SF of Phase 1 consisted of Offices, security, offices, secured waste and delivery, trimming, coco busting, and drying rooms.
Phase 1 of Fluresh was completed in (8) months from start to licensing and the team at Construction Simplified was instrumently in taking on the challenge first posed to us. These efforts were not only streamlined, but provided the lessons learned / first in place experience that we worked closing with the client and engineer of record to refine the future plan and details. Given only (3) flower rooms were constructed during this time, we would have another (21) flower rooms all pushing 5,000 SF through planned Phase 4 that we could strive to perfect in regards to design, cost, and timing.
Cultivation Phase 2 & Post Harvest:
When Fluresh Grand Rapids was first master planned, the team had assumed that Fluresh would learn along the way and therefore wanted flexibility in the space planning when feasible. With that, Construction Simplified suggested at the completion of construction of the 16,750 SF mezzanine in the original high-bay of the old factory, that we leave the space formally unplanned to ensure that desired flexibility. We ran through multiple scenarios with the engineer of record to ensure the egress capacity and to-be-installed elevator would be of value no matter what the use when that time came.
The first decision was to construct (2) more flower rooms and (1) large double-stacked veg under a portion of the mezzanine and vacant since Phase 1 completion. Given the simplicity of three proven room types and the raw shell that already existed, Construction Simplified delivered those (3) rooms in a short period of (4) months.
However, atop the mezzanine was a different story. Fluresh thoughts did indeed change as the entire 2nd floor was now to become a Post-Harvest area that would include (6) large drying rooms and then a room-to-room flow of trim, treatment, sampling, packaging, product vault, and fulfillment. In order for the drying room height to be efficient though, the interior clear height of the old structure needed to be raised. Given the lack of structure at the mid-span due to the below mezzanine, once again Construction Simplified, our steel trade partner, and the engineer of record went to work to find a solution. Ultimately, we replaced the (10) air frame trusses that were 10’ in depth with sloped W-members every 10’. Although quite costly, this change added nearly 8’ of clear height and added nearly 100,000 CF of utilized space for the client and their drying capacity.
Once the ceilings were structurally raised, our team then proceeded to build out the space over the next three months. Most of the rooms are constructed from Insulated Metal Panel (IMP) walls which allowed for swift installation but more importantly, a clean environment for the harvested and packaged materials.
Cultivation Phase 3:
The excitement that the team at Fluresh and those toured through the facility is centered around Phase 3. In its raw form, it’s a modern era pre-engineered steel building totaling nearly 60,000 SF attached to the southern portion of the originally built manufacturing space. Albeit is very simple, the simplicity is the clear canvas that everyone can easily envision another (9) 5,000 SF Flower rooms lined up one after another with limited complications. This is where the efficiently and size of the total Fluresh operations abruptly makes sense.
To highlight the intense nature and business mindset of Fluresh, not only are the (9) rooms the identical size, but we also moved half of the existing columns to relocate them to wall line locations, so not to interfere with the rolling table layout and plant count of each room. It’s a quick calculation to determine the ROI of the cost of the column relocation vs. the added plant count and yearly harvest expectations.
Finally, given the tight-toleranceed engineering of the pre-engineered building coupled with the future loading imposed by the room panels, lighting grid, and heating and cooling coils, CS worked with the engineer of record to design a structural sub-system that would carry the existing room load where the columns were relocated as well as the new loading. In this design, we also accounted for operations input for exterior access to the chiller house as well as access above all the rooms for required maintenance, while never stepping foot inside the licensed facility.
Phase 3 of Fluresh was certainly one of the largest in terms of SF, but for the team at Construction Simplified, was the culmination of our efforts over nearly 2+ years with this client and project, always pushing to improve our process and it’s results. Completed in just (6) months, the CS team put in place nearly $18M in total construction costs including all of the owner equipment vendors, getting them ready to triple their total canopy of Flower. At the end fo the day, that is what pays the bills.