School's In

School's In
  • DANVILLE, CA-The San Ramon Valley Unified School District (SRVUSD) has over 2,800 employees serving more than 25,000 students in 31 elementary, middle, and high schools in Northern California's San Ramon Valley. Rapid population growth and the need to modernize many aging schools led to the construction of eight new schools and the complete modernization of ten more over the past six years. Facing construction cost inflation, SRVUSD looked for ways to migrate to a district-wide telephone system and improve its school low-voltage communications systems without exceeding its already-strained budgets.

John Baldwin Elementary School serves a residential neighborhood in Danville, CA, in the center of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. The school was completely rebuilt, beginning in 2005. Pictured from left are Ric Johanson and Jon Threshie.
Two men-SRVUSD's director of technology, Jon Threshie, and consultant Ric Johanson of RTEJ Corp. of Alamo, CA-pioneered a "one-wire" solution to the district's communications needs. For new construction and major modernization projects, they ran the entire infrastructure on their data network's cable systems-eliminating the use of separate wires for phone, clocks, data, and speaker systems-thereby providing significant costs savings, easy administration, and a modern, easily-expanded platform. The one-wire solution is Berbee Information Network Corporations' InformaCast, a software system running on a Cisco platform with recently developed IP loudspeakers from Atlas Sound. So far, Threshie and Johanson have deployed Berbee systems in seven district schools with five more waiting.

The Advent Of Addressable Speaker Systems
"About two years ago, we discovered that Berbee was ready to start putting out addressable speakers that would allow us to build school-wide bell, clock, and PA systems effectively," said Threshie. Berbee, a CDW company, developed and markets InformaCast, its branded IP-addressable speaker system. "An addressable speaker system would help us eliminate two or three more cable systems, which would be a large part of our construction savings goals."

The Atlas Sound I8 clock speaker.
InformaCast runs on Cisco Unified CallManager software, the call-processing component of the Cisco Unified Communications system. (Berbee will release a product with the same functionality that will work with any phone system in the near future.)

"At the first five schools," said Threshie, "we went from zero installed speakers to approximately 250 IP clock-speakers and another 100 exterior zone speakers. We installed the initial system [late August 2005] with no experience and had the system up and running in three days at all five schools." Two Berbee engineers and one of SRVUSD's Cisco engineers, helped make this happen, while Threshie's staff handled networking, VLANs, etc.

"Installation of the Atlas IP zone controllers and exterior zone speakers came next, and we were done by the end of September," continued Threshie. After some modification to system configurations and working out couple of bugs with great support from Berbee, all system-level work was complete by November.

Zone Controllers And Amplifiers
The Atlas IP zone controllers (RJ-45 to network/line out to amplifier) connect the network to an amplifier-the 9W amplifier on the control board of the Atlas I8 Series speakers, in a fully-IP system. The Atlas 1-U rack mount zone controller is actually a co-design engineered by Johanson working closely with Atlas Sound's Bruce Marlin. Similarly, Johanson and Threshie made their design suggestions for the back box of the in-wall IP speakers, which were quickly implemented. "Atlas has been a fantastic partner," said Johanson.

The Budget And Beyond
Compared to installing a traditional analog paging system in new or modernized construction (the prior district standard), SRVUSD saved approximately 15 percent of the cost of the total analog system, primarily in the areas of conduit, cabling, and installation.

In addition to the costs savings, the web interface makes using and maintaining the system easy; handling changes, district-wide, is extremely fast and efficient. "Ric or I can access the network on the web-from on-site or from New York City-and make any changes we need to through the InformaCast web interface," said Threshie. "For a non-technician to be able to do this is really a wonderful thing."

Several types of announcements go out through the InformaCast system, including general announcements and emergency communications.
Carol Loflin, principal at Quail Run Elementary School, gave an excellent example of the emergency features of the system at work. "We were having conference week, and the teacher and parents were here, and someone called 911," she said. "We didn't know who had called, but the police were here. I was able to do an all-call through the InformaCast system and find out who dialed 911 in a matter of seconds."

The advantages of an IP addressable speaker system in the K-12 school setting start with economics, and migrate outward from there. But this technology brings the same benefits to any setting where any individual on a network has the need to address multiple other individuals.

The AVNetwork staff are storytellers focused on the professional audiovisual and technology industry. Their mission is to keep readers up-to-date on the latest AV/IT industry and product news, emerging trends, and inspiring installations.