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Fighting Irish… Sign Shop?

How one sign professional filled the need for a major college

By Donna Houston

“Sign Shop? The University has a Sign Shop?” This was the universal response given whenever the subject came up. Coming into the shop just three short years ago, even I had no idea that this service existed. When our shop was first envisioned several years ago, it was to be a convenience that would be able to meet the bare minimum requirements. Housed in a small office that had once been the Lock Shop, the new shop’s first projects were all vinyl lettering. Having only a part time staff, meeting these demands went smoothly. As part of the Maintenance Center, the Sign Shop busied itself with the small projects that came up. As part of a widely diverse Department, the shop was moved to give more space to Project Coordinators.

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  • Now tucked into the back corner of the Carpenter Shop, where custom woodwork is completed in-house, more space meant some newer equipment. Sensing that we could offer even more services to the University, a Dimension 200 was purchased along with a Gerber Edge and plotter. Soon, a small group of campus departments heard of the shop, and it became necessary to employ a full time staff. This is when I transferred from a different position to run the shop. Having limited experience with the equipment, it was a little daunting at first. I was kept busy with providing our Security Department with parking signs and with small orders of room numbers and desk plates.

    With the Dimension, I was able to provide ADA signage using Braille for the first time. It was also soon noticed that having our own shop was a huge savings to the university. The turnover from receiving a work order to installation was almost immediate, unlike the four to six weeks that was the normal wait from outside sources. Word began to spread, and we soon had four new dorms under construction that needed room numbers and directional signs. Being able to stay almost twelve thousand dollars under the budgeted amount has lead to an on going relationship with departments responsible for new construction and the retrofitting of existing buildings.

    Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

    Moving Up

    After almost two years in the new location, it was again time to move. The Carpenter Shop needed to expand and so did the Sign Shop. A new space was found, and construction was under way. During this time, I made a trip to Indianapolis to view some new equipment. The opportunity to see the new Gerber Sabre 404 in action made me convinced that we needed it to increase our client base within the University and our overall productivity. With the purchase of this router, I felt things could really take off.

    The completion of the new space opened up many opportunities. We now had a separate room for the router, storage space, and central air conditioning! With the 4x4 foot routing bed, I was able to take on custom projects of a larger scale. Working with our carpenter shop, I engraved the University Latin seal into 40 inch round table tops, provided the football, basketball, and women’s basketball offices with 8 foot mahogany signs that are fixed above the entrances, and have done several 36 to 40 inch round seals using wood and HDU foam placed in various locations throughout the famed Golden Dome.


    As these different jobs have been viewed, more and more new and exciting opportunities have flooded the shop. Some of the latest have been three large concession carts for the stadium, specialized graphics for new Campus Security vehicles (including bike helmets and ATVs), and two Zambonies for the ice hockey rink. The Hockey graphics were admired by the Varsity Shop and put onto shirts for public sale.

    The New Year looks to be busy and full of new and varied possibilities. As a one-person shop, I am sure that I will be busy, and hopefully, our shop will continue to grow in reputation. Hopefully we have heard the last of “Sign Shop? The University has a Sign Shop?”

    Donna Houston
    Graphic Art Specialist
    Sign Shop
    Facilities Operations
    University of Notre Dame

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