Technology for Older Schools

June 1, 1997
When retrofitting older buildings with tech-nology systems, planning is essential. Older schools are a special challenge because they may have insufficient

When retrofitting older buildings with tech-nology systems, planning is essential. Older schools are a special challenge because they may have insufficient power, poor lighting, inappropriate furniture and, sometimes, inadequate space. To complicate the situation, more than 90 percent of the classrooms and laboratories to be used with current technology tools already have been built.

Tackling the problem Technology includes a broad spectrum of voice, data and video equipment. Some administrators lack the knowledge or understanding of what is required and how to incorporate to-morrow's technology into yesterday's buildings.

It is not the age of the building as much as the design that can present a problem. When you start talking about what to do, how to do it, and how much it will cost, it is impossible to develop a template for all schools, since every school is unique. Each school will have particular physical constraints, functional needs and some level of existing technology, as well as funding constraints and opportunities for collaboration with vendors and support groups in the area.

The power capacity of any facility must support multiple types of systems and teaching styles. Otherwise, the systems and tools will not be compatible with the instructional needs.

Primary issues The general classroom presents the most perplexing problem. Currently, most classrooms serve between 20 and 30 students in a space measuring 650 to 820 square feet. Taking into consideration the presence of inefficient furniture, a teacher's desk, storage cabinets, bookshelves, heating units and chalkboards, there is little space for technology. Bear in mind that each computer station requires 15 to 20 square feet of space.

To make classroom technology smart, determine the wiring infrastructure; AC power distribution; cable trays and conduit; HVAC requirements; and lighting, acoustics and ergonomic needs. This information will set the baseline requirements for a viable solution. Classroom needs should start with the understanding that:

-A successful building retrofit requires a major upgrade of the wiring infrastructure. Design and install the cabling utilizing a modular, flexible approach that supports voice, data and video using a common platform of fiber-optic and unshielded twisted-pair cables. The combination of these two media provides the most economical, uniform and long-lasting method for providing necessary bandwidth for the next 15 years. The building wiring infrastructure selected may be the most critical decision made. It is hard to reach design overkill for infrastructure.

-Five computers and one laser printer will require one 20-amp circuit and up to 100 square feet; a classroom TV monitor will require 4 amps per room.

-Five computers can raise cooling needs by 25 percent, and 20 computers can double cooling needs. Do not forget to provide humidity control to protect all equipment.

-Exposed wall conduit running just below the ceiling, surface-mounted wireway and wire molding are the primary solutions to classroom cable runs. Other solutions include cable trays, bridle rings, power poles and undercarpet wiring.

-Lighting design is critical to the success of classrooms wanting to use current technology tools. Lighting demands a system that reduces glare and has the ability to darken, but provides sufficient ambient light for notetaking. A combination of independently switched (with some dimmable), low-voltage, pendant indirect fluorescent fixtures with parabolic louvers provides a solid solution. The goal should be to obtain approximately 75 foot-candles of light in each classroom.

-Furniture that is ergonomically designed for technology is useful. Chair desks are becoming obsolete because of their lack of flexibility in arrangement for small-group work, and size and slant of the desktop.

-Chalkboards should be replaced with a dry-marker surface. Many schools have experienced an expensive realization that chalk dust is not compatible with computers, printers and video projectors.

The bare necessities The headend--main equipment room--should be cooled year-round. The smallest of systems will require approximately 5,000 BTU, with larger systems requiring up to 12,000 BTU, cooling capacity. Provide 4 amps per fileserver and 1 amp per network component. The video-information system should have two 20-amp circuits for the first two racks and one 20-amp circuit for every two racks thereafter. For the telephone system, provide one 20-amp circuit and surge protection for all trunks entering the facility.

The most common pitfall to avoid in preparing an educational building for current and future technology tools is designing the voice, data and video system to be vendor-specific, so that it does not support other systems.

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