Young entrepreneur busy changing Sarnia’s landscape

Calvin Schouten, 24, stands in front of the former Sarnia General Hospital, where he’s overseeing its demolition. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

At the age of 24, many people are still deciding what to do in life.

Not Calvin Schouten.

He founded his own contracting company, Schouten Excavating, and it has been part of some major projects in Sarnia.

Schouten is overseeing the removal of the Sarnia General Hospital buildings on Mitton Street, after leading the demolition of the former St. Patrick’s high school.

He started the business and bought his first excavator at the age of 20. Today, he employs 23 people and operates nine excavators.

On any given time, the company has five crews working in Ontario between Sarnia and Ottawa.

The Watford resident said he likes the redevelopment in Sarnia’s downtown and expects Mitton Village to follow suit. He’s even considered investing in property in the area, saying Mitton Village is “on the upswing.”

Schouten Excavating’s first commercial job was in London for the Ontario Government, removing a social housing complex. That breakthrough directly led to securing the demolition of St. Patrick’s.

The East Street high school was taken down for $449,000 in 2015. It was a slim profit margin, but he was focused on the big picture for the company, he said.

“We did a school in St. Mary’s after that … and after that we did a school in Kitchener, and we wouldn’t have been able to do that without St. Pat’s.”

As a young entrepreneur, Schouten had to break down walls to earn respect, and has been challenged by larger competitors seeking flaws in his operation.

He attributes his early success to a willingness to learn, especially from his employees. His first hire was a man old enough to be his grandfather, but whose wealth of knowledge has been invaluable, he said.

Keeping employees well compensated has also been helpful in retaining top talent, he said

“We have a really great team.”

Once all the asbestos is removed from the Sarnia General site a third party will inspect the space. Protecting his staff and the neighbourhood is paramount, he said.

“We’re going to turn them over a clean site … If we’re taking a building down it has to be clean… no ifs, ands or buts.”

The local company GFIVE Inc. purchased the Sarnia General Hospital property last year, with a plan for a mix of new housing, offices and possibly commercial space.

One of the company’s five owners, Mark Lumley, said the asbestos abatement in the main hospital building is about 50% complete.