Why would a successful real estate developer take a risk by adding civil construction to its services lineup? The answer is simple: cost savings.
When Aquilini Development – a division of Aquilini Investment Group – added earthmoving services, it hired Kevin Clarke as vice president of civil and infrastructure to ensure the new work went smoothly. Clarke joined the company three years ago, bringing years of industry experience managing multiple construction projects at one time. “The civil and infrastructure aspect that I do with Aquilini Development includes any type of land development – from high-rise towers in Vancouver to urban developments such as single-family and multi-family projects,” Clarke says. “It’s a broad spectrum of the development business.”
Aquilini Development, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, is following a trend in construction – doing its own earthmoving rather than hiring a general contractor. “Self-performing on the civil side of things is becoming a pretty common entity these days,” Clarke says. “I’ve been doing it myself for other companies for a number of years now, and most developers are recognizing that there’s a lot of cost savings in doing it yourself.”
Vancouver’s rapidly growing real estate market has helped Aquilini Development’s earthmoving service take off. “Vancouver has been a hidden gem for a long time, and it’s really come into its own in the last 10 years,” Clarke says. “The economy is booming right now and hopefully it keeps going. Right now, I have five projects in process, and they’re spread across multiple years.”
Building a fleet
Recommending equipment purchases and managing a fleet are part of Clarke’s many responsibilities. He enjoys working with equipment partners, including Westerra Equipment, the local Doosan® equipment dealer in the Vancouver area, to help Aquilini Development grow its fleet and gain more control over its jobsites.
In 2016, Clarke partnered with Westerra Equipment to rent three DA30-5 Doosan articulated dump trucks (ADTs) after jobsite superintendent Mike Zsombor heard about the ADTs from another local contractor. Aquilini Development needed the trucks to help with an extensive site preparation project near Tsawwassen, British Columbia.
“We contacted Westerra, and the sales specialist, Darren Sabatino, came back with some very decent rental rates,” Clarke explains. “Last winter, we put a great deal together on three of the original trucks we rented, plus a fourth, and we came up with a price that we were happy with based on the number of hours that we’d put on these trucks. It was a smooth process, and we were pleased with the way it was handled. It was to our benefit because Westerra looked after us quite well from the money that had been spent last year on these trucks, so it made a ton of sense to do it.”
Clarke says the 40-plus years that Doosan has been manufacturing ADTs played a part in the company’s decision to purchase the four DA30-5 ADTs as did the equipment’s productivity and ease of maintenance. “We really liked the power and the short turning radius of the Doosan trucks,” Clarke says. “We wanted the trucks, so it was a matter of me convincing the Aquilini family that these were the trucks we wanted. They had been told that they should buy other brands. We sat down, and this is where Darren became very helpful, as we went through fuel consumption. The Doosan trucks are very comparable with other trucks but better on fuel. Mike knows how they’ve been running, and we know the exact amount of fuel that they’re burning because they get fueled every day.”
Overcoming weather, soil issues
Wet weather coupled with poor soil conditions at the Tsawwassen Shores project caused ongoing project delays this past spring and summer. The development areas were previously dumping grounds for a variety of non-hazardous materials, including diverse soils, gravel and rock. “We needed sunshine and we needed wind because we could only get it structurally compacted if we had the dryness in it,” Clarke says. “If it had any moisture at all, it wouldn’t compact, so this year was a real struggle for us.”
Clarke says articulated dump trucks were the only feasible solution to move the material. “It had to be articulated dump trucks,” he says. “You couldn’t take regular highway trucks onto this jobsite; they would disappear. The operators worked 10-hour days, minimum, if the weather was good.”
Much of the work completed during phase two of the Tsawwassen Shores project was at a property just west of the Tsawwassen Mills shopping mall, not far from the Pacific Ocean and near the Tsawwassen main ferry terminal to Vancouver Island.
“There was a lot of preloading involved to compress the existing ground,” Clarke says. “Because it’s waterfront work, we were very close to sea level. We were trying to be efficient in that aspect of the existing material we have, and we continue to move from phase to phase. Part of that process is bringing it up to a flood plain elevation, so we structurally build up to that elevation and then preload it on top of that.”
Each Doosan DA30-5 ADT can carry up to 21.9 cubic yards and travel up to 34 miles per hour, making them an efficient means of accomplishing bulk earthmoving tasks. “Last year we moved close to 500,000 cubic meters (653,975 cubic yards) of material, and it’ll be approximately the same this year,” Clarke says. “We carried the material up to a third of a kilometer (0.5 miles) in 2016, and in 2017 it was a little shorter haul.”
Crawler excavators paired with trenching buckets loaded the Doosan articulated dump trucks before they transported the materials to another area of the development. In addition to the excavators and trucks, Clarke says the company had several dozers on-site and a harrow with disks that helped dry the material quicker, if necessary.
At the waterfront project in Tsawwassen, Zsombor oversaw the daily construction development and appreciated the short turning radius of the Doosan ADTs. Clarke says that, despite the large size of the project, turnaround space is limited.
“It’s a tight site, which may sound funny,” he says. “We try only to drive in certain areas at any given time and also try to shorten up the haul. The quicker we can get turned around, the better off we are. It’s just part of earthmoving. Every site is different, but on this particular site, the tight turning radius is critical.”