Re: Questions on...going to small cell and going to 8 frame mediums
The Arataki bees are raised in large cells, 5.5mm. They will not take to drawing small cells easily, in fact it will be a mission. I'd recommend plastic foundation just purely because cells not built how you want can be scraped off & you get the bees to do it again. However what Beregondo says about plastic is true, bees don't like it initially. To get them to work it you need a flow, or feed them sugar.
You talk about 2-3 years to get your own locally bred queens? What do you mean, brought in local stock, or bred from your Arataki stock? Arataki bees are awesome bees, but if you are wanting to be treatment free I'd recommend buying in some queens that are claimed to be varroa tolerant.
Just because bees are local, may or may not mean much. better do some web surfing and find a source of varroa resistant queens, requeen some but not all of the hives, and then start breeding from there. A mix of Arataki with some other bees will likely result in some excellent bees.
Monitor varroa though, don't use the "eyeball method", doesn't work use a proper method like an alchohol wash.
"We don't need no education" (Pink Floyd) - Yes you do, you just used a double negative.