R. Sluis Excavating Produces Material and Saves Money on the George and June Schaaf Athletics Complex
The project for R. Sluis Excavating came out of left field. For over 30 years, the Oak Forest, Illinois, company focused on commercial and residential excavating; developing an 87-acre sports complex was something new.
The opportunity surfaced when Marv Aardema of Don Mar Enterprises, the primary contractor, called Steve Sluis to request his involvement in developing Trinity Christian College's new athletics fields half a mile from campus.
The 87-acre complex, which is still in development, includes a driving range, two softball diamonds, one baseball field and three soccer fields (one AstroTurf and two grass). There is also the possibility that the complex will include an additional baseball field, a football field and tennis courts. The complex will be named after George and June Schaaf, who contributed a significant portion of the funding.
The development was possible because of a 100-year lease with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, which owns the narrow piece of property. A canal had been dug along the premises over 100 years earlier, and the property had been untapped for decades. Large piles of dirt, rock and rubbish that sloped down to the canal needed to be cleaned out.
Don Mar Enterprises had been attempting to do the majority of groundwork for nearly three years, but Aardema needed some help. He decided to hire a professional excavation subcontractor.
When Opportunity Knocks
R. Sluis Excavating takes on a wide variety of work, from demolition to trenching projects and ponds to new home additions. Sluis and his crew - which consists of his two sons, Tim and Jason - dispatch in and around Chicago to offer specialty excavation services for anyone with the right job. But this project was different, both in terms of scope and the capabilities required.
The responsibilities included: trenching for storm sewer piping and electrical lines, infield drain tiling, shaping and grading. Don Mar Enterprises would assist in forming the roads and sidewalks, perform top dressing for the fields and the driving range and blend materials for the baseball infields.
Sluis knew the project would push his company's expertise, but he wasn't about to drop the ball; his team was up for the challenge.
There was one big catch. Fresh, sorted, high-quality dirt, sand and other materials were not in the budget. The project's planners believed costs could be cut, and profits made, by collecting waste materials from area contractors, landscapers and homeowners who paid to discard them at the jobsite. From asphalt grindings to clay fill, black dirt to stone, about 100 people per day paid to drop material by the load.
Sluis recognized he would be doing 90 percent of the site work, stopping just short of seeding the grounds, installing fencing and building dugouts. Normally this would be no problem for Sluis and his sons, but this was one of the biggest projects in the company's history. "It was a great job for us," he said, "but to do it right, we needed to look into some additional equipment."
A small screener was going to make or break the job for R. Sluis Excavating. Aardema was willing to rent a unit, but Sluis wanted to add a screener to his own fleet. He researched several and began testing a few brands and models. Sluis struck out with the poor production of the first two screeners he tested, and the third wasn't a charm, either. Testing that one cost the Sluis boys a day of downtime for setup and tear down, all for output rates that definitely were not worth the machine's cost.
Finally, Sluis discovered Lake Erie Portable Screeners. The company appeared to have an ideal screening plant - the Pitbull 2300 - for the work. Sluis ordered a machine to demo and received it that same week.
There was almost no comparison. "The Pitbull blew right through the dirt we were sorting that day," Sluis said. "When screening black dirt, I can get up to 80 yards per hour. The other units we tried produced about a quarter of that, maybe even less."
Soon after purchasing the machine, he invested in seven sets of modular screens. The panels are lightweight and easy to move, so just one worker can switch a screen in as little as 10 minutes. The change outs have been necessary because of the broad range of materials and material sizes processed in the development of the George and June Schaaf Athletics Complex, ranging from very fine sand to larger stone to be used under the AstroTurf soccer fields.
The Pitbull 2300 has been a major player in the project, even more than Sluis expected. He and his sons have used it to separate everything from very fine topsoil to larger stone for building the roads and parking lots. He also has used it for creating an asphalt mixture, as well as blending sand and clay for the baseball infield.
In addition, he used the Pitbull to blend the topsoil for all of the grass fields. The black dirt that gets dumped is inconsistent and often contains rocks or rubbish. "The blend has to be the right consistency," he said. "It has to be easy to level and sculpt, and it must contain the nutrients to promote healthy, thick and strong grass growth."
The company also formulated its own premium mix for field top dressing, a blend of sandy dirt, composted manure, leaves and grass.
In terms of keeping the project's price tag in check, the Pitbull 2300 has been the MVP; Sluis says it has already paid for itself several times over. Although processing and sorting the material on site took time and was paired with operating costs, having the Pitbull on site was a much more affordable and convenient option than purchasing materials outright.
In addition, the monetary impact multiplies with more expensive material, like the baseball mix that costs an average of $60 per yard or stone that costs $18 per ton. All these savings add to the value of having the Pitbull screener on site.
"It's kind of like double dipping," Sluis said. "We're getting paid to take the materials and make what we need on site rather than paying to have it trucked in. It's cost-effective, resourceful, and it saves us the time it would take to transport or order materials."
The Home Stretch
The project has been a breakaway success for R. Sluis Excavating. The crew has learned a lot about screening a range of topsoil materials, and Sluis found the right equipment for building his team. He's confident the company's new skills, combined with the Pitbull 2300, will lead to new opportunities in the future.
For the athletes who ultimately tread on R. Sluis Excavating's work, the new fields will be a sanctuary for blood, sweat and tears for years to come.