Disadvantaged Kentucky and Tennessee Schools Graduate to High-Speed Cabling

When you think of Kentucky and Tennessee, coal mining, cotton fields, catfish and rural farm areas probably come to mind; not high-speed, high-bandwidth cabling. However, through government grants, elementary and high school students in certain low-income areas of Kentucky and Tennessee are now benefiting from receiving the most advanced voice, video and data networking systems - from wireless backbones to the latest ratified Category (CAT) 6 connectivity.

"When you're wiring schools that have been around since as far back as the 1930s, you want to be assured that your cabling system will be warranted to last at least 10 years or until they get a new facility," says Dennis Gomer, president of Computer Consulting & Network Design Inc. Together, Gomer and John B. Allen, president of installation firm Application Services Inc., have assisted many Kentucky and Tennessee school districts applying for the E-Rate government program to install sensible, structured cabling systems that give faculty and students the benefits of Internet access and advanced software tools.

Spending Funds Wisely

The Schools and Libraries Corp. is a newly formed nonprofit organization established by the Federal Communications Commission to administer the E-Rate program. All K-12 schools and public libraries qualify for the program and receive discounts according to their level of economic disadvantage, which is determined by the annual percentage of students eligible for the National School Lunch Program. "To spend these funds wisely, we have tried to standardize the components of the cabling infrastructure to make it easier for the schools to determine the percentages allotted for hardware and installation costs," says Gomer.

"By providing a 25-year warranted system from NetClear, a Berk-Tek/Ortronics alliance, such as NetClearGT2 or NetClearGT3, end-to-end high-performance cabling solutions consisting of a fiber-optic backbone and CAT 6 horizontal copper cabling, we were able to standardize the structured cabling system for the LAN within the school districts. This made it much more conducive than just installing a couple of modems and computers," says Allen.

Standardized Layout

The Wayne County School District, sprawled across 20 acres in Monticello, Ky., now has one of the most intricate communication systems. The district installed a wireless backbone to allow gigabits to the desktop through high-speed copper cabling. Currently, 100 Mbps are running to the desktops with an in-building fiber-optic backbone running at 1 Gbps. All the buildings are cabled with coax from the antenna to the access point, and are connected through UTP copper cabling to "telecom closets." This cabling is patched through Ortronics 48-port CAT 5e patch panels with Berk-Tek's LANmark-350 CAT 5e cable. In addition, the new high school has 48-port CAT 6 patch panels through LANmark-1000 CAT 6 cable for its data and video.

Most of the schools were provided with a standardized set of Ortronics connectivity products. All the Berk-Tek fiber-optic backbone cabling between closets is terminated in the main cross-connects (MC) and intermediate cross-connects (IC) to Ortronics ORMMAC fiber distribution cabinets. From there, it is patched over Berk-Tek's LANmark-350 CAT 5e, LANmark-1000 or LANmark-2000 enhanced CAT 6 cable through Ortronics Clarity6 48-port patch panels.

"Where it was viable, we would design and implement a CAT 6 system for above the standard bandwidth and speed, says Gomer. This was true at not only the Wayne County High School, but Allen also retrofitted a NetClearGT3 channel solution, the highest performing premium CAT 6 structured cabling system at the Cooper-Whiteside Elementary School in Paducah, Tenn., and at East End Elementary School in Humboldt, Tenn. He also retrofitted a NetClear GT2, beyond the standard CAT 6 solution, at the new Muhlenberg North Middle School in Greenville, Ky.

In each classroom, there are six computer network connections - one for the teacher and five for the students - and one printer connection. Ortronics Series II or Clarity6 TracJack outlets were utilized because of their modularity to fit into any design or opening. Series II faceplates were installed at all the Wayne County buildings. There are also video connections through enhanced CAT 6 cables in each classroom and library, allowing higher frequencies and longer distances to be realized, and 120 channels of video to be transmitted versus 70 over CAT 5e.

Unique Configurations

The most unique design was at Muhlenberg North Middle School. "We had to keep the old system running while we were building the new one," says Larry Bender, technology director for the Muhlenberg County School District. "Because of this, we have redundant coax and CAT 6 for our video system." The telecom closets were not in rooms and the equipment racks were installed above the HVAC (heating, ventilating, air conditioning) system on the concrete mezzanine that runs the length of the building between the ceilings and roof. Plenum cables were then pulled down to the classrooms and other workstation outlets.

When retrofitting the cable at the Cooper-Whiteside Elementary School, the CAT 5 in the raceway, which had been placed in 1992, was replaced with a CAT 6 solution. The data/voice MC was placed behind the stage in an existing auditorium/gym. The IC and the video MC were located in a separate closet in the new wing of the library. "We wanted a premium beyond the standard Cat 6, because it gave us a chance to leapfrog technology and get the highest-rated system with available funding," says Jeff Nelson, technology director for the Paducah Independent School District.

East End Elementary in Humboldt, Tenn., was also able to have enhanced Cat 6 installed. "We are building a new wing for this school and are excited to have the latest and greatest technology available for our students," says Garnett "Butch" Twyman, superintendent of Humboldt City Schools.

"With six drops to every classroom, we can add more computers later," adds Albert Simmons, director of technology, who was instrumental in getting the funding approved for this school, making it the first in their district to have high-speed Internet access.

In many classrooms, teachers and students are already researching over the Internet, as well as using national educational software. "The computers have revolutionized the way the staff and students learn," says Linda Jones, director of public relations for the Wayne County Schools. Together the infrastructure allows leading-edge technology to give these students resources to better prepare for their future endeavors."

- Carol Everett Oliver and Arlene Franchini

Contact Information

Ortronics Inc.
New London, CT
(800) 934-5432

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.