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Tom Meeks: Maintaining the Mission

Tom Meeks and his team in maintenance pave the way for Notre Dame College to advance its mission by keeping each element of the College’s facilities operating smoothly.

Meeks, director of physical plant, has been working for Notre Dame in different capacities in facilities services for nearly 30 years, making him one of the longest-serving staff members in the College’s history.

“Thirty-four years,” Meeks said. “Where did the time go? It feels like it just moved right along.”

Tom Meeks

Meeks secured his first position at Notre Dame in the 1980s. He was living in Chardon, Ohio, at the time, but he hopped on a bus to Cedar Road to apply for a position at a grocery store in South Euclid, Ohio. When he arrived, Meeks was told the position was already filled─but he didn’t stop there. He started walking down South Green Road looking for other options.

He didn’t realize it at the time, but Meeks was about to find a job, a future and a new family as well. After a ten-minute trek, he reached the entrance of Notre Dame College.

Meeks said he was familiar with the Sisters of Notre Dame because his sisters had attended high school at Notre Dame Academy. So, on a whim, he asked around campus about openings and was hired that day. He has been with the College ever since.

“Some people get to work, and they’re miserable. And some people can’t wait until they retire, but my thirty-four years have been fun, great, challenging and unique,” Meeks said.

Meeks has a team of seven full-time workers and three who work seasonally. Directing the operations for a 53-acre campus with a staff that size can be stressful at times, but the one aspect of his position he finds most challenging every day is managing costs.

“I know my budgets are tight, so we try to get everything down under-budget,” Meeks said. “We try to turn a $10 bill into a $50 bill.”

Some ways Meeks works to minimize costs are by thinking ahead, planning long-term and completing projects in-house when possible, such as the construction of Quinlivan Circle. Although the Circle probably seems perfectly ordinary to the hundreds who walk across it each day, it represents an architectural feat that facilitates movement throughout campus─even after a snowstorm.

After contracted designers released the initial blueprints for the Circle, Meeks and his team went to work. With their intimate knowledge of campus, they realized that the original design would result in damage to the beautiful oaks along Campus Road. To save the trees, Meeks and his staff orchestrated deep fertilization prior to construction of the Circle and decided to use riverwash stone instead of limestone to further protect the oaks’ roots.

“Everything has a life cycle,” Meeks said. “When we need new oak trees, we take the old ones down and plant new ones somewhere else.”

In efforts to mitigate the future costs of salt usage─and ensure safety for pedestrians─the team also installed heated pipes beneath the sidewalks. The project was complex, and some were skeptical about the investment, until a board meeting was held during a snowstorm. Meeks said he was so happy when the group meeting that day glanced outside at the heavy snowfall, saw the Quinlivan sidewalks were pristine against the snowdrifts and congratulated him on a job well done.

Although Meeks often has worked on large campus construction projects─most recently the installation of two all-purpose athletic fields and now the renovation of Regina Hall for the Academic Support Center and nursing division─his comparatively smaller tasks are no less challenging. He cites more than one instance when, in the middle of the night, an elevator is stuck or, during the early morning, a sprinkler head breaks in the residence halls or, while he is on vacation, a contractor cannot wait to deliver him blueprints.

In addition to construction management, Meeks and his team have completed nearly 5,000 total work orders in the past two years─and that does not include emergency maintenance. In fact, the majority of Meeks’ work is preventative.

“As miniscule as lubricating pumps and changing filters may seem, it’s important,” Meeks said. “But some people don’t realize it.”

Preventative maintenance includes ordering hundreds of pounds of cleaning supplies, maintaining 53 acres of lawn, distributing 250 yards of mulch per year, sprinkling 50-70 tons of salt each winter─even without including Quinlivan Circle.

“Numbers are staggering when you look at it that way,” Meeks said. “Every day is something different, and that is what’s beautiful about it. It’s not repetitive.”

As director of physical plant, most of Meeks’ work is on campus, but his job often takes him out into the community as well.

In 2011, Meeks and his staff helped rebuild the Playground of Possibilities in Bexley Park. They also helped organize students to rake leaves in the community for senior citizens that fall. Most years, the maintenance team also builds floats for the St. Patrick’s Day and Columbus Day parades. His team is also crucial in the organization of annual barbecues with the Alumni Association. Meeks said that kind of work brings the best vibes.

“I’m proud to say that I work at Notre Dame. We’ve done a lot of good in the community,” Meeks said.  “The drive of the College, the spirit of the teachers and the people they are producing out of here: It’s phenomenal.”

According to Meeks, one of the most powerful things at Notre Dame is the sense of community on campus.

“It takes a group of people to get things going. I get great support from my family, administrators and teams. It’s not all me,” Meeks said.  “There are a lot of behind-the-scenes aspects and believing in your department and your abilities to get the job done help keep the campus safe and operational. You don’t need a rocket scientist to work that out.”

Meeks says he was always inspired by the work of Bernhard Muhle, who he replaced after Muhle retired in 2000. Muhle spoke broken English with a heavy German accent, but Meeks remembered that he always said: You take care of Notre Dame. It takes care of you. And according to Meeks, Notre Dame has taken care of him.

“It’s my life,” Meeks said in a recent video in celebration of the College’s 90th Anniversary. “I met my wife here, raised six kids here and three of my children have gone through school here. It means a lot.”

Meeks married his wife, Denise, now  a Notre Dame alumna, 30 years ago and has watched three of his children earn degrees from the College.

“There is a sense of pride when they walk across that stage at Regina,” Meeks said. “We produce quality education and students who succeed─from teachers to nurses to everything. It’s a sense of pride, and it’s what they do with the students here. They do it right the first time.”