Technology In Residence

Today's college residence hall is more than just a place where students hit the books, sleep and hang out for nine months of the year. It has become a place where students and others participating in programs throughout the year can live, meet, conduct research and study, taking advantage of electronic links to the campus network and the world beyond.

This level of activity requires current technology-from data networking and telecommunications to efficient space heating and cooling systems to networked fire-safety systems-as well as the flexibility to adapt to future changes in technology and patterns of building use. Here is a look at some of the technology trends for today's residence halls and how these can be accommodated in new facilities and existing buildings.

>From the inside out Residence halls now require voice/data communications cabling service to each student room and to public spaces, including lounge/study and meeting facilities. A central service closet can be connected by fiber-optic cable to the campus data network. From there, copper voice/data cabling typically is run through a riser comprising a series of stacked telecommunications closets, usually 4 to 6 feet wide and 7 feet long, one on each floor. Each closet provides a flexible pathway for data and telephone systems for individual rooms, space for running commercial television cable and data communications connections to the campus network.

Students have the option of connecting to the Internet through the campus network or commercial Internet providers. Some universities are providing (or leaving space for) ISDN lines, which offer the ability to use a single telephone line simultaneously for voice and data. Cable is run from each floor's telecommunications closet, usually above corridor ceilings, to individual rooms. Telecommunications and data ports also should be installed in lounges, which are being used increasingly by students for group study and research.

When planning a new residence hall, it is relatively simple to provide the space for adequate communications cabling, but retrofitting an existing facility can be a challenge. Few older buildings have adequate telecommunications riser space that is centrally situated in the building. Engineers must identify a location to accept new, dedicated telecommunication risers as a flexible pathway that will allow installation of a communication system and upgrades as new technology is developed.

Often, these telephone closets must be "carved out" of other spaces, such as janitor closets or existing residence-hall rooms. The cable is run through two or three, 4-inch "sleeves" cored into the floors of each closet. One or more extra sleeves always should be cut to accommodate future growth. In a renovation, it may be necessary to create a suspended ceiling over corridors where there was none previously, or an accessible soffit to house cable trays.

Many existing residence halls have sufficient power for computing, especially since students tend to favor laptops rather than desktop PCs. However, additional power and data outlets always are required. Today's computers also are more resistant to the effects of power fluctuations. Still, they are not immune to the surges created by refrigerators and other appliances on the same circuit, so some universities are providing separate power circuits for each student's room.

Safe and sound Fire-alarm systems should be networked into a central campus fire station and linked to the local fire department. Although these types of fire-alarm systems have been available for years, they have come down in price and size. Wiring these systems has become easier where network communications wiring is used rather than individual hardwires to each device. In addition, state-of-the-art fire-alarm systems allow network-wide voice communications.

There is no doubt that a residence hall with sprinklers in every room and at all egress routes offers the best protection for residents andproperty. Sprinklers are managed by the fire-alarm system, notifying the system if the sprinklers are activated (most often through a water-flow switch), and they control the fire until firefighters arrive. Many colleges and universities are installing sprinklers in new residence halls, whether or not local codes require them.

All states require sprinklers in high-rise (more than 70 feet) residence halls. According to the National Fire Protection Association, where sprinklers are not required by code, smoke detectors and heat detectors would be required. Heat and smoke detectors also are networked into the fire-alarm system. Each device carries an address that pinpoints the location of the alarm device.

Many existing residence halls still have the old hard-wired fire-alarm systems. Retrofitting for a new networked fire-alarm system usually is not difficult, and wires can be run through a conduit in the same closets as the telecommunications system. Retrofitting for a sprinkler system is a bit more challenging, given the need to run water pipes, yet the variety of sprinkler heads now allows a system to be designed with the widest coverage for the lowest construction impact.

Security systems in residence halls have become more advanced as well. Closed-circuit television (CCTV) is used frequently, with cameras at entrances and higher-risk public areas, such as laundry rooms. The information is transmitted either to a security office in the residence hall or to a central campus-security office. Panic buttons often can be found in remote locations. The wiring for these systems usually can be run through telecommunications risers.

Hot and cold Colleges and universities increasingly are using residence halls year-round, for students enrolled in summer-school sessions, as well as for income-generating programs. In most areas of the country, this means the buildings must be air conditioned.

The ideal approach in many new and existing facilities is to use fan-coil units that provide heat and air conditioning using hot or chilled water from the university's central plant. Another option is to use self-contained wall units. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Wall units may be less costly initially, and may be the only way to go if there is no central chiller plant and no desire to build one. However, wall units have a shorter life-span-10 to 15 years vs. 20 years for fan-coil units-and require more maintenance. A life-cycle cost analysis always should be performed.

Some additional issues arise when doing retrofits of existing residence halls, which often have the original steam-heating systems. Here too, a fan-coil system will work, completing the changeover from steam to hot water by installing a heat exchanger. However, old steam pipes cannot be reused for the water system, so this type of retrofit requires core drilling risers for new hot-water pipes. What to do with the old steam pipes? Since removal is difficult and expensive at best (and they often are wrapped with encapsulated asbestos), the simplest approach is to cut and cap them and leave them in the walls.

Individual room wall units are available that use steam for heating and electricity for cooling, allowing re-use of an existing steam system. These require cutting through exterior walls, which is time-consuming and expensive in a large high-rise building. Also, the building's existing electric service may be inadequate to run the air conditioning. However, an older building may be due for an upgrade of the electric service anyway.

Despite the availability and potential long-term energy savings associated with computerized building-management systems, many universities are not making this investment because of the initial cost. Instead, they are choosing to use individual room thermostats and, perhaps, central electrical breakers that shut off heating/cooling units during vacations or other breaks. One inexpensive alternative is to install an eight-hour timer on each fan-coil unit, which automatically turns off the unit.

At the same time that heating/cooling systems are installed or replaced, it is wise to consider the added long-term economic benefits of high-performance windows, those with low-E glass, perhaps slightly tinted to reduce solar heat gain. They also improve comfort and control noise. Unfortunately, owners often reject these in favor of lower-cost clear glass double-glazed windows that just meet code.

Lighting systems, however, are often much better today. Higher-efficiency, ambient warm-toned fluorescent lighting can be used to improve quality while reducing lighting loads.

Finding time On college campuses, retrofits usually are done during the three-month summer break, so projects have to be compressed, well orchestrated, and sometimes phased over more than one summer. Almost invariably in a building from the 1950s or 1960s, one will encounter asbestos in the fireproofing, pipe wrappings and even floor tiles. Keep in mind that the time and care required for an asbestos-abatement project must be factored into the overall cost and scheduling of a renovation.

Planning for technology in residence halls, old and new, is all about foreseeing the shape of things to come, whether in data networking, telecommunications, environmental control or fire safety and security. Make sure maximum flexibility is built in from the start and take a long-term view toward analyzing the initial capital outlay vs. the ultimate life-cycle cost.

A residence hall under construction at Columbia University, New York City, will feature modern technology in a traditional dormitory-style building. The new residence hall replaces an old bank, parking garage and part of a historic fraternity house, whose front facade is incorporated into the new brick structure, blending well with surrounding buildings.

Fourteen stories high and 140,000 square feet, the new residence hall is traditional in some respects. For instance, it comprises 330 individual rooms, mostly singles with a few doubles and a central group study/lounge on each floor. There are male and female bathrooms on each floor, plus a pantry kitchen for cooking.

In other ways, the residence hall is nontraditional and flexible. A garden lounge on the main floor near the entrance, music practice rooms, a seminar room on the second floor and a branch of the New York Public Library at street level make this building attractive for year-round use by students, as well as those attending summer conferences and seminars.

Built to accommodate today's and tomorrow's technology, the building includes the following features:

-Fiber-optic cable in the main telecommunications room of the building provides interconnections with the campus data network and access to the Internet. Risers have enough flexibility to extend fiber-optic cable to the floors in the future. Telephone closets on each floor provide copper cable to each room for power, data and telephone. There also is a provision for future cable TV.

-Power is distributed from a central bus duct riser rather than a cable running from the basement, providing greater flexibility. This is supported by an independent electrical closet on each floor that houses the bus duct connections and circuit panels for the floor.

-Cabling runs above suspended corridor ceilings, providing accessibility and flexibility for growth. Conduit from the corridor ceiling runs into the slabs and side wall of each room providing channels for all the cables.

-Lounges and study areas on 10 floors are fully wired for use by several computer users, in addition to a computer room capable of accommodating 20 users.

-The fire/life-safety system is made up of sprinklers in exit routes, below-grade spaces, lobby and other public spaces and heat detectors in individual rooms. The fire-alarm system is networked to a central monitoring station.

-The central computerized building-management system for the building's heat exchanger is connected to the campus steam system and chilled water unit, in turn connected to the central chilled-water plant.Fan-coil units in each room are controlled individually.

With flexible systems built into the design, the residence hall will be able to adapt to changing technical requirements, meeting the needs of Columbia students for many years to come.

Architect for the project is Robert A.M. Stern Architects.

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