Notre Dame Landmark Restored Under Cover of Darkness

It's difficult to overstate the significance of Main Building to Notre Dame. Described as the centerpiece of Notre Dame’s past and present, the building was constructed in 1879 and supports the famous Golden Dome, which was added in 1882 and today defines the campus skyline. The five-story structure also serves as headquarters for the university administration.

Eight JLG aerial work platforms are enabling workers to restore the exterior of the historic landmark, replacing failed window and mortar sealant joints, repairing cracked and damaged brick, tuck pointing, replacing decorative ornamental metal features, painting soffits, cornices, window trim, and porches, and power-washing the building’s exterior.

The crew mobilizes at 5 p.m. and works until 2 or 3 a.m. “The majority of the work we do here on campus has to happen between graduation at the end of May and when students return to campus, roughly around Aug15 15,” explained Tony Polotto, senior project manager, facilities design and operations at Notre Dame. “This time of year we’re busy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So there’s no room for equipment failure.”

Porous brickwork dates back to the late 1800s, when the university fathers and brothers mined clay from nearby lakes to make bricks for the original buildings on campus. Similar in consistency to adobe, the old bricks tend to absorb water. During the heavy freeze-thaw cycles common to South Bend, Ind., winters, that water often freezes, causing the bricks to pop apart and making regularly scheduled masonry restoration a priority.

The JLG 660SJ and 860SJ provide the reach needed to accomplish the job, with platform heights of 67 and 86 feet, respectively, and a horizontal outreach of 57 and 75 feet. In addition, the jib boom and basket rotate, allowing additional functionality and access to hard-to-reach areas of the building. “The compact size and extended reach of these machines is really important to us,” said Polotto. “The articulating jib allows us to access areas that might otherwise be difficult to reach and reach safely.”

Polotto says the university rarely uses scaffolding, even though he estimates 85 – 90% of the projects on campus require working at height. “Scaffolding is very expensive, time-consuming to put up and take down, and typically damages landscaping. With lifts, we can be in and out quickly, completing a task and leaving the landscaping as we found it. They’re especially helpful when we repair our slate roofs. You can’t walk on slate or you will damage it, so we can’t scaffold the side of a building and use that as a platform to walk on the slate. The best way to do any slate repairs is from a lift. The articulating action of the lift gets us right up to the slate areas safely, without touching the roof. Our workers can do their repairs and move around the entire roof, leaving no damage in their wake.”

“Noise on campus is always a problem,” said Polotto. “The nice thing about these lifts is that they’re designed to be very quiet, almost like running a car. But almost every part of this particular project requires the use of tools that need generators to operate; generators that can introduce more noise as work is performed. The nice thing about this equipment is that power is available on the lift itself. We don’t have to operate separate, noisy generators on the ground, with extension cords that create safety hazards.

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