Meet the Senior Director of Notre Dame’s construction
Tony Polotto, the university’s “Senior Director of Construction and Quality Assurance for all Notre Dame construction-related projects,” oversaw the dome’s re-gilding twice, expertly installed the current Basilica organ, and holds responsibility for upkeeping the infrastructure of Our Lady’s university.
Polotto was born in Grovertown, Indiana, which is 45 minutes south of campus. Polotto attended Oregon-Davis High School in neighboring Hamlet, Indiana. He majored in construction engineering at Purdue University before earning an MBA from Trine University. He now lives in Berrien Springs, Michigan, with his wife, Shelley. His three kids—Chase, Kailey, and Emily—are now grown and live on their own.
Polotto has spent his entire professional career of 33 years on Notre Dame’s campus. Throughout his time at Notre Dame, he has come to cherish the people he sees every day as an integral part of the university. Complimenting his coworkers, Polotto told the Rover, “I can’t think of a single person who would not be happy to help.”
Polotto aims to treat everyone charitably, especially the workers on his construction team. He knows each worker by name, and he makes sure to say “hello” or to give a quick compliment anytime he sees them. Understanding the intricacies of construction-related projects, Polotto appreciates the architectural vision of this campus. Polotto told the Rover about the recent progress on the new men’s residence hall on north campus, lauding his workers for “knocking it out of the park on this one.”
Architects and architectural enthusiasts alike would be impressed by Polotto’s wealth of knowledge. Every construction project he has overseen at Notre Dame not only functions well, but befits the aesthetic presentation of this historic Catholic university. Polotto told the Rover that he believes Notre Dame contains “some of the most beautiful buildings in the country.”
While working on construction projects constitutes the majority of his work life on campus, Polotto sets aside time every semester to teach a section of the Moreau First Year Experience class, a freshman seminar course. He desires to “have a direct connection to the students,” which reflects one of his self-described guiding principles in life: “Stay humble and treat people with compassion and respect.”
Not every project Polotto works on is as glamorous as the basilica, the dome, or the older residence halls. He recently explained to his freshman Moreau class how Notre Dame’s energy operates underground. An astute observer will notice the absence of telephone poles and overhead wires of any sort on campus.
Miles upon miles of underground tunnels tie Notre Dame’s campus together, bringing heating, cooling, and electricity to buildings all over campus. This electricity originates from massive natural-gas powered energy systems housed in the power plant on north campus.
Many Notre Dame students have likely heard of these tunnels, though perhaps not for their energy efficiency. Until recently, they served as undercover transportation paths for curious students; though now, more-advanced security measures prevent such ventures. While the administration wanted to prevent transgression of university rules, their primary concern was for students’ physical safety. Polotto noted that the tunnels can reach temperatures of well over 100 degrees during warmer weather, meaning a student who loses his way in them could also lose his life.
No job is without its difficult moments, and construction is no exception. A teary-eyed Polotto recounted how several years ago, when the team was re-doing the Joyce Center roof, a group of seniors on the eve of their graduation, snuck onto the rain-covered surface while intoxicated. One of them slid down the unfinished roof, and broke his head open on the ground below, dying soon afterwards.
Tony Polotto has contributed to Notre Dame in numerous ways, from designing and renovating the school’s world-renowned architecture, to keeping the university’s energy infrastructure functional, and mentoring his past and present Moreau students.
Besides enjoining everyone to act humbly and compassionately, he gave some advice upon reflecting on his own life. “As I look back over my life, especially in my younger years,” Polotto said, “one of my biggest struggles was trying to insert my opinion to add value to a situation or discussion. It took me too long to learn that God gave me two ears and one mouth for a reason, to listen twice as much as I talk. It’s okay not to know everything, learn it from the people who do.”
Ned Kerwin is a freshman engineering major living in the recently-renovated Sorin Hall. You can often find him in one of the high-ceilinged, first-floor study rooms, preparing to prepare for an upcoming test. Email all architecturally minded questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Notre Dame Stories
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