Courtyard Cleanup

Hydroexcavation contractor goes without water to help during large remodeling project.
Courtyard Cleanup
The team from Action Hydrovac, based in Ontario, tackled a large hospital remodeling project requiring vacuuming out a center courtyard to prepare for expansion.

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What do you do when a customer has a tight budget and a location where water can’t be used? You complete the job using dry vacuum.

That’s what Action Hydrovac did in late 2016 when the company accepted a job at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto, Ontario.

The hospital was undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation that included a new patient care tower on the site of a center courtyard. The project, dubbed St. Michael’s 3.0, also included a renovated emergency department and significant upgrades to the existing hospital space.


The courtyard was surrounded on all sides by the hospital, making it impossible to get a truck into the dig site. Mitch Fairbarn and Aaron Van Tol, owners of Toronto-based Action Hydrovac, decided the only way to do the work was to run the hydroexcavator hose from the truck on the street through the hallways of the hospital and into the courtyard.

“It was about 225 feet we had to go,” says Fairbarn. “And we couldn’t use water just in case we had a break or anything like that because it would make a mess of the hospital.”

Before the job, crews held a tailgate meeting to discuss the project and get an idea how long they could be at the job. They also had to figure out how to handle pedestrian traffic in and out of the hospital. At the hospital entrance, workers lifted the hydroexcavator’s boom over the walkway and directed pedestrian traffic under it. The hose was then fed from the entrance through the hall to the courtyard.

“We had to go this route because the only other way they could get a piece of equipment in there was by dropping it in with a crane, and that would be too costly,” Fairbarn says.


After getting the hose to the courtyard, three Action Hydrovac crew members started digging with shovels and using the vacuum hose to suck up the dirt. “It wasn’t very fun without the use of water, but it was one of the ways we saved on the hospital’s budget,” Fairbarn says.

Action Hydrovac was the second hydroexcavation company to come to the job site. The first was unable to complete the task. “Our trucks were bigger than the other company’s trucks,” says Fairbarn.

The company used one of its two Vactor HXX units with a 15-cubic-yard debris body and a 600 hp Cummins engine. In two days, crews put in 20 hours to complete the job, hauling away 65 cubic yards of dirt.

“Along the way, we kept the hospital up to date on our game plan and explained what we were doing, how long it would take and what the cost would be,” Fairbarn says. “We just barely made their budget.”

The crews learned a great deal on the job, specifically what the trucks are capable of doing.

“We learned how far we could be from a job and how much we could vacuum being 200-some feet away,” Fairbarn says. It took four hours to load up the debris tank. Each load weighed about 60,000 pounds. Crews then transferred the soil to dump trucks and hauled it away.


After completing the vacuuming work, the general contractor came in to lay the foundation of the new tower, using a crane to lower equipment.

The project is expected to continue through 2019. Currently, crews are working on the patient care tower, the Donnelly Wing renovations, the Cardinal Cart Wing, and Emergency Department renovations.

In 2018, crews will begin with the Bond Wing and Shuter Wing renovations.


Action Hydrovac, founded in 2014, works within about a two-hour radius of Toronto and handles water and sewer restoration. Much of that work is water main replacements.

“A lot of infrastructure is older in Toronto, so it’s just a big burst of water work taking place right now,” says Fairbarn.

Since the hospital job, the company has done other work on the remodeling project. That includes utility location, and cleaning out and digging the holes for pilings for the hospital addition.

“It’s been a great project for us and one that is getting our name out there even more,” Fairbarn says. “I’m proud of how our crews worked.”


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