Avoiding AV Complexities

Contra Costa County Administration Building
The new Contra Costa County Administration Building includes extensive AV solutions in executive offices, conference rooms, and more. (Image credit: Contra Costa County)

When it opened in 1964, the 12-story Contra Costa County Administration Building in Martinez, CA, was state-of-the-art. But over the years, time had taken its toll.

“The building was costing the county a fair amount of money to maintain,” said Wayne Tilley, information system division director—communications, at the Department of Information Technology for Contra Costa County. “Systems were aging out and could not be maintained effectively. The building was at a critical age point.”

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County administrators and the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors realized the need for a new building. The solution would be to build a new four-story administration building across the street from the original building and then raze the 1964 structure. In 2017, the Board of Supervisors approved $60 million for the new 71,000-square-foot building; construction began in 2018 and was completed in 2020.

Ahead of the Curve

“Those of us at the county started talking more and more about AV and its complexities—its inability to be simplistic, what remote to use, how to turn things on, linking to third-party systems—and how to make that better, but more importantly, what AV could bring to the county,” said Tilley.

Tilley engaged with several companies he had worked with in the past, and found himself meeting with Chris Apple, vice president of sales for Interactive Digital Solutions (IDS), a company that both he and the county had worked with for 12 years, even before Tilley began working for the county.

“We started to sketch things out,” recalled Tilley. “We looked at how to make AV simpler, use automation, use a one-touch panel instead of multiple remotes, and room scheduling. In a couple of hours, we had everything that we could think of.”

Contra Costa County Kiosk

An outdoor kiosk and 20 digital signage locations were included in the project. (Image credit: Contra Costa County)

IDS would eventually win the bid for the new building’s AV system. “We’ve been designing this system for a year and a half—it took four months to get everything installed,” said Matt Rhodes, director of sales for North America for IDS. “Everything” included outfitting 15 executive offices, 40 conference rooms, 10 break rooms, a training room, the chamber room for the Board of Supervisors meetings, and 20 digital signage locations plus an outdoor kiosk.

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“Most places don’t want to invest in a full IP-based AV enterprise solution like Contra Costa County has,” said Rhodes. “But that can be expanded county-wide for a centralized video solution. In 2019, before COVID, most designers and organizations were not doing a multi-software meeting platform approach; it was all Zoom or Webex. We were ahead of the curve and saw the need for multiple software platforms in each room—and the county wanted to do what we thought was a great idea. Of course, now, multiplatform is a must have.”

One of the biggest reasons the partnership between IDS and Contra Costa County exists, according to Rhodes, is the company's on-site engineering and remote management support. “We’re ingrained into the support structure, with an engineer on site one day a week and during board meetings. We’re also just 90 minutes away should something unexpected happen," Rhodes said. "This all leads to a partnership that is good and healthy, which is why the county is one of our best customers.”

Control Consistency

Part of the simplicity that Tilley wanted can be found in how IDS designed the system, with every room built on the same foundation, from the board chamber to the smallest conference room. This gives users a common experience throughout the building.

“Each room has a profile of how it can be used: its permitted occupancy and available technologies,” said Tilley. “We don’t have a bunch of people trying to use the same room at the same time. Now, a person walks in, the room is preset, they turn on the panel, and have their meeting.”

Contra Costa County Avocor

Avocor touchscreen displays are used in several rooms to control video meetings and whiteboard presentations. (Image credit: Contra Costa County)

The panel is from Crestron or Avocor, depending on the size of the room. “Larger rooms use a Crestron control panel,” explained Tilley. “This allows me to come into a room, touch a button that turns on the lights and the monitor, then touch a link and bring up my video meeting. I can also control speaker and mic levels, plus the camera in the room can count the number of people to verify capacity.”

Rhodes added that each room needs some sort of compute resource. “This lets users schedule meetings, but it also lets Wayne and his team, as well as us off site, see all the equipment and know its health. During COVID, we would know if lower room capacities were exceeded. Before COVID, no one really carried about that type of basic analytics. If nothing happens in a room after 15 minutes, it’s released for other users.”

According to Tilley, a benefit of multiroom control is the ability to expand videoconferencing to breakout rooms. “During board meetings, we can accommodate public overflow by opening up other rooms so that they can watch the proceedings and make statements to the board as though they were in the main board chamber," he noted.

Dana Corey, Avocor

Dana Corey (Image credit: Avocor)

“Smaller rooms use Avocor’s 65-inch or 86-inch touchscreen displays,” explained Dana Corey, senior vice president and general manager for Avocor. “Twenty of the smaller displays are spread throughout the building and five of the larger displays are split between the board chamber, executive offices, and other meeting rooms for controlling video meetings and whiteboard presentations.”

Christal Giles, Avocor

Christal Giles (Image credit: Avocor)

IDS is Avocor’s top reseller, according to Christal Giles, western regional sales manager for Avocor. “We’ve been working with IDS since 2019, and we’re currently working with them on the county’s new Health Department Services Building, with 13 65-inch touchscreen displays, and the Employee Human Service Building, with 65, 75, and 86-inch touchscreen displays,” Giles added.

Avocor’s displays utilize the Open Pluggable Specification (OPS) using an Avocor i7 OPS PC with Windows 365. With an OPS side slot in the display, users can swap in a new PC without having to deal with external cabling.

Now In Session

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors started meeting in its new chambers in September 2020, with the public attending virtually. While various departments would move into the building during the pandemic, it wouldn’t be until March 2022 when the public could attend meetings in person.

Contra Costa County Chambers

The new chambers for the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors features simplified audio control and a large video wall. (Image credit: Contra Costa County)

According to Tilley, the AV design goal for the board chamber was simplicity. “It needed to be easy for board members, administration folks, and our CCTV partners that televise the meetings,” he added.

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All the mics easily plug in and have auto sync with auto level control. There’s Wi-Fi in the room, so the public can watch meetings on their smartphones and hear real-time Spanish translation, or watch English and Spanish dual-line open captions. There’s also wireless audio assist for people to use with their smartphones and ear buds. With all this technology, there is still one human required: the ASL interpreter.

The highlight of the chamber is its video wall, a 16x9-foot widescreen display made of 64 panels. “I wish we could have gone bigger,” said Tilley, “but we were limited by the available height. With a new building, you shoot for the moon—but architects and accountants bring you back to reality to what the true department needs are. And that goes back to an AV system that works independently and seamlessly.”


Michael Silbergleid

Michael Silbergleid serves as president of Silverknight Consulting in Fort Myers, FL, a strategic communications firm serving the broadcast and media industries since 1999.