Fisher Construction Group design/builds award-winning facility for Arctic Cold in California.
By Keith Loria

Arctic Cold, a long-time client of Fisher Construction Group, called upon its design-build collaborator to create a cold storage facility that could meet the needs of fruit processors. The facility would also provide storage for its tenant, citrus grower Ventura Pacific in Oxnard, California, United States.

The $90 million project required a 575,000-square-foot building on a 32-acre site. Criteria included the capability to process up to 50,000 crates of lemons and package fruit, and then store various products in either the variable temperature coolers or freezer for distribution.

“Fisher Construction Group takes prides in the relationships it builds with clients and the service it provides that sets us apart from other general contractors,” says Juan Ozuna, Project Manager for the build. “We worked with the client from the conceptual design and due diligence on site selection to help vet a location that can be developed to fit their needs.”

There are many challenges to finding a large, undeveloped site to develop in California. Fisher Construction Group’s strategy was to work closely with the client to understand operation requirements, budget constraints and building flexibility requirements.

“We then analyzed potential sites for feasibility,” Ozuna says. “This included looking at utility availability, meeting with the local planning department to understand its requirements from an aesthetic perspective, current zoning and requirements from an environmental regulation standpoint.”

Before construction, Arctic Cold tenant Ventura Pacific was operating an outdated processing facility and storing product in several locations across Ventura County. It needed a more efficient processing space and onsite cold storage that could house 100% of its product. By doing so, it could eliminate truck trips and complex inventory management and deliver more local citrus to market.

The site selection started in early July 2019, with what was thought to be a perfect location. However, after several months of due diligence, design and planning review, the seller pulled the offer and suggested a different site instead. Design restarted on the new site in 2019. Approximately a year later, after working through planning review, project approval, California Environmental Quality Act compliance, permit plans review, budgeting, and construction prime agreement – construction began.

Turning Lemons Into Lemon-Aid

The cold storage was built as a partnership between Arctic Cold and Ventura Pacific, which was operating out of an old building with multiple storage facilities throughout Oxnard.

“This building allowed for its operation to be streamlined to one building and have quick access to the highway for trucking efficiencies,” Ozuna says. “The building allowed for the receiving, processing, storage and shipping of lemons to occur out of one single building location. This type of collaborative approach between the cold storage provider and the processor provides many efficiencies in the business model of these operations and for the environment.”

The job was completed in January 2022, but it had its share of issues.

“This was a challenging job with too many obstacles to name,” Ozuna says.

For one, the schedule was challenging because the tenant needed space to start installing its equipment by July 2021. Liquidated damages incurred if a temporary certificate of occupancy of the processor space was not provided by January 1, 2022.

Another challenge was the project site was situated in a business park that had been approved in parallel with the Arctic Cold project. For Fisher to ensure roads and utilities were available, it took on the Phase 1 of business park construction and built infrastructure in parallel with the Arctic Cold construction. At a cost of $35 million, water, sewer, storm, gas, power and data could be available.

“The project’s success and ability to operate relied on the business park infrastructure project being completed on time,” Ozuna says. “Additionally, the site and business park had old abandoned oil wells. The entire building placement, site operational flow and site arrangement were entirely dictated by the oil well location and required building setbacks.”

In the end, the project required 17 permits and six deferred submittals. Most of these needed to be issued while city staff were working from home, or the building department was closed to the public, due to COVID protocols.

Fisher had a routine weekly call with representatives from the city to work through all the permits and comments. This allowed the company to push the limits of construction at times without the permit being formally issued. Ozuna notes Fisher was “an open book” with the city and built trust as a dependable contractor.

The Fisher management team relocated from Washington State to live in California and manage the project. Nine members of the company relocated for a year or more.

“We are like a family on deployment when we relocate to these projects,” Ozuna says. “We look out for each other both on and off the jobsite. We all understand the end goal and are always looking to help each other out when the need arises.”

Fisher was able to navigate and overcome all obstacles through collaboration, hard work, utilizing all resources and thinking outside the box.

“We are always looking at challenges from different angles and creative approaches,” Ozuna says. “There is an enormous amount of knowledge and experience on a project from the general contractor, subcontractors, designers, consultants and suppliers. We go in with the understanding that if we are to succeed, everyone must succeed. We have this mentality throughout the project with everyone. We treat the project’s management team like a partnership and not an adversarial relationship.”

Innovation of Control Systems

Fisher enabled myriad savvy innovations in control systems for the Arctic Cold facility.

Unlike older refrigeration systems, the Logix controls that were integrated into the refrigeration system permit the user increased control of the system. Each refrigerated area in the facility can be monitored. This ensured all room temperature requirements were met, and power demand stayed below the maximum threshold.

The controls include a state-of-the-art plant electrical use monitoring program that shows the operator the utility rate schedule (on-peak and off-peak), instantaneous power, demand power, daily kilowatt-hours, and log use of interval peak power.

“This is an essential part of the system since power demand is high throughout the Southern California region,” Ozuna says. “Being able to ensure that Arctic’s system is staying under the maximum power usage threshold set by the utility provider is critical to prevent damage to the power grid.”

To add to the plant’s electrical use monitoring capabilities, the controls system also includes a dynamic electrical demand limiting and load shedding program. It allows adjustment of the system’s electrical demand limit and demand shed set points.

“This lets the operator set specific power limits that will determine when equipment starts to be automatically shut down to prevent plant power use from exceeding the desired levels while reducing operational costs,” Ozuna says. “Additionally, the equipment that will shut off during the automatic load shedding is user defined so the operator can determine which equipment will be shut down automatically.”

A shunt trip system was also included in the refrigeration system. It is unlikely this feature will be used because of the system load shedding by the dynamic electrical demand limiting program. The shunt trip acts as a mechanical fail-safe to shut down the refrigeration system in the event the maximum power usage set by the power provider is exceeded.

Sustainable Features

The facility was constructed following the U.S. Green Building Council guidelines for LEED certification level Silver.

Plus, more than 75% of all waste accrued during building construction was recycled. This accounted for a total of 315.60 tons of material that will be reusable rather than disposed of in a landfill.

Fisher utilized Solar Strap, a patented technology ideal for use on cold storage and freezer facilities since penetration through the existing roof was not required. This attachment method uses the existing roof membrane by heat-welding an 11 ½-inch diameter piece of membrane to the existing roof surface. Once the circular membrane is in place, a 5 inch by 8 inch tie-down will sandwich the metal strap to the roof.

Low water use Evapco Eco-Air Series adiabatic condensers were also installed for the refrigeration system. These only use water when ambient conditions and cooling load require it, reducing overall water usage throughout the year. This is especially important as the facility is located in Southern California, where water is a precious commodity.

A Job Well Done

The completed Arctic Cold Oxnard facility is a steel-frame construction with IMP walls offering unmatched energy efficiencies as well as benefits for food safety.

“The new freezer storage allows multiple local produce growers and processors to store their product in one central location as opposed to multiple smaller freezers in separate locations,” Ozuna says. “This allows them to have better inventory of their product and react to customer needs more efficiently.”

The building is located right off the 101 Highway, which reduces the amount of truck traffic in the surrounding urban areas and significantly reduces trucking needs.

“As a result, the nation’s cold storage supply chain being served by Ventura County’s citrus and produce supply is more efficient and capable of meeting consumer demands,” Ozuna says. “I am amazed and proud of our team for getting this project completed on time and on budget. Our client and their tenant were operational at the time required.”


June 29, 2023


Cold Chain Development, Design Build, Supply Chain Operations, Sustainability, Technology