Higher Learning

When all high schools are as advanced as Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore, MD, they'll have to come up with a new level of higher education past the Ph.D. The extremely progressive, $50 million transformation of a standard public school into a fully loaded technological educational showplace sets a new standard for what can be achieved--by both students and AV designers--at the high school level.

For AV systems designer, Convergent Technologies Design Group, the playground was the large-scale budget that accompanied the project. "The rooms here are as nice as at any college or university, but when do you get a college job that spends $6 million on AV?" asked Paul Corraine, principal consultant of Convergent Technologies.

A multi-phased project that saw Convergent Technologies managing multiple AV contractors, Digital Harbor High's scope and mission is definitely impressive. Seventy 25- to 30-student computer-lab-style classrooms are onsite, all fully networked to each other. Also part of the package are a broadcast NLE center featuring 90 Avid editing stations, a tiered lecture hall with videoconferencing, and an uncommonly user-friendly master control room.

Convergent's plan made Digital Harbor a 3-phase project, with AV contractor, Nelson White Systems, installing 20 classrooms, RCI Sound Systems handling 40 more classrooms and AV Washington performing the broadcast NLE install. "This high school is touted as having the highest level of technology of any high school in the country," Corraine stated.

"We had to maintain the serviceability and usability of these systems so the skeleton crew there could maintain them after the renovation was complete," he continued. "That led us to specifying IP-addressable systems so they could be monitored over the network, as well as reliable manufacturers all the way through, such as Extron, AMX and Sharp."

Students at Digital Harbor High will never be far from the comforting glow of some manner of display screen. Each classroom is set up like a computer lab, with presentation systems sharing media from DVD, VCR, internet, PC, cable TV and document camera sources, viewable on a 120-inch motorized Draper Access V front-projection screen fed by a Sharp XG-P25X ceiling-mounted digital projector. Instructors control all functions via AMX Modero touchpanels with NetLinx controllers for integration/signal routing of all available electronics within the room. A large-scale Extron switcher system ensures comprehensive routing throughout the school (see sidebar below).

The 30-seat tiered lecture hall at Digital Harbor High is one of two rooms that extend the school's presence to the outside world, offering such deluxe AV amenities as distance learning, videoconferencing, remote facility management and media retrieval. The rooms easily enable feeds between Digital Harbor High and other high schools, colleges and universities, as well as serving as a facility for faculty planning and training, larger classes, public meetings and more. "This is state-of-the-art videoconferencing," Corraine confirmed. "The rooms are equipped with ParkerVision auto-tracking cameras, as well as Fujitsu plasma displays that come down on motorized lifts."

In addition to the aforementioned IP-addressable system capabilities, Convergent Technologies designed the 25 x 10-foot second-floor master control room to help reduce building-wide energy consumption and increase faculty efficiency throughout the facility. The AMX NetLinx keeps track of all devices on the network and can send alerts when equipment is unplugged without authorization, or a component-such as a dying projector bulb-needs maintenance. In addition to system status and upkeep, the control room serves as a cable TV head end and as a central source for media, with duplicates of most of the classroom playback sources living in the control room equipment racks.

For Convergent Technologies, the Digital Harbor High project was a learning experience beyond simply facilitating a larger-than-normal budget. "It was enlightening just managing a 3-phase project," Corraine admitted. "This was the first time we had to manage three AV contractors concurrently, so this was uncharted territory for us.

AV Anywhere

Digital Harbor High's commitment to sharing any and all of the AV signals between each room, if need be, called for extensive switching and routing capabilities. "We specified an Extron Matrix 12800 128 x 128 matrix switcher for audio and video baseband switching between each of the classrooms," Convergent Technologies' Paul Corraine noted. "All AV is connected via twisted pair as well as coax. They have terrestrial RF to do sub-band return functions, as well as just doing real-time audio and video."

He added, "The large Avid LANShare digital file server network that we specified is one of the largest on the East Coast. It enables them to do media retrieval, digital file serving and scheduling for audio and video to their 90-plus NLE edit stations. So any instructor can call up any DVD or VCR in the facility and play it from any location-scheduled. It's intense."