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Former Kitchener, Ont. auto parts plant gets retrofitted for cannabis cultivation

Patricia Williams
Former Kitchener, Ont. auto parts plant gets retrofitted for cannabis cultivation
JAMES E. WAGNER CULTIVATION CORP. — The first phase of conversion of a former Kitchener, Ont. auto parts plant into a cannabis cultivation facility included construction of eight custom flowering rooms as well as upgrades to the building’s HVAC and electrical systems. This phase was completed in November 2018. Phase 2, now well underway, includes provision of six flowering rooms as well as electrical, mechanical and security-related installations. General contractor is Ball Construction.

Construction is well under way in Kitchener, Ont. on the second phase of a project that entails transformation of a former auto parts plant into a state-of-the art cannabis cultivation facility.

The project, at 530 Manitou Dr., is being carried out for James E. Wagner Cultivation (JWC) Corp. by a team that includes Ball Construction, Stecho Electric and Price Mechanical.

The retrofitted facility, known as JWC 2, has been designed to provide approximately 345,000 square feet of production space as well as a variety of support areas.

In scouting potential locations for the facility, James E. Wagner Cultivation had two key criteria in mind, said Nicole Werth, the company’s director of strategic initiatives. These were:

  • Significant power feeding into the building; and
  • Ceiling heights high enough to implement the corporation’s proprietary aeroponic GrowthSTORM dual droplet system.

“This building has both of these things,” Werth said in an email. “In addition to that, it is local to Kitchener-Waterloo, which is where our company began and where we would like to continue to grow.

“Moreover, our pilot facility is five minutes from this location, so that makes plant transfer, employee management and other aspects of operations much simpler and easier to handle.”

Phase 1, which was completed in November 2018, involved readying 55,000 square feet of space to receive plants for transfer from the JWC pilot facility on Trillium Drive for immediate cultivation.

This initial phase included construction of eight, custom “flowering” rooms, each occupying approximately 1,350 square feet of space.

In addition, the building’s HVAC system was upgraded to control environmental conditions, extensive electrical upgrades undertaken, and insulated, metal panels installed to create a hermetically sealed, sterile environment.

Ball also upgraded offices, installed protected storage vaults and decontamination areas along with security components.

This phase is now at full production capacity, Werth said.

Phase 2 includes construction of six flowering rooms, each measuring approximately 5,750 square feet, as well as additional washrooms and electrical, mechanical and security-related work.

James E. Wagner Cultivation received a building permit for Phase 2 in mid-December of last year.

Conversion of the former Lear Corp. plant into a cannabis cultivation facility has not been without its challenges — the largest being the building’s age.

The company took occupancy of the building in February, 2018 after signing a lease the previous November. Active construction got underway on Phase 1 after a building permit was issued in July, 2018.

“Even to meet (the) snow load code, we have had to do a significant amount of structural reinforcement on the roof,” Werth said, noting that the entire roof was replaced by the landlord as a result of leaks.

“Piping is old cast iron, (which was) rotten and clogged after so many years of use. So, we have had to cut up concrete flooring to replace entire runs of piping.

“We have (also) had to asbestos remediate in many places and update electrical, including a replacement of one of the main high-voltage lines into the facility.”

In addition to Ball Construction, Stecho Electric “has been one of the largest reasons for our success,” Werth said.

“They are helping us build a robust infrastructure, with redundancies in place to support our cultivation activities.”

James E. Wagner entered into a construction agreement with Ball “almost immediately” after signing the lease for the Manitou Drive building.

The company was already working with Ball at its pilot facility.

Werth said Ball was retained in part because of its dedication to completing projects on time and within budget and an ability to work “within a unique dynamic (environment) where the landscape is always evolving.”

James E. Wagner received a cultivation licence from Health Canada in respect of Phase 1 on March 29 of this year.

President and CEO Nathan Woodworth said in a statement at that time that the licensing “is a tremendous accomplishment that will allow us to ramp up production to a nationally competitive scale.”

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