Though the daily business pages of our nation's newspapers are peppered with headlines such as "Indexes hit new lows for the year," construction spending by the nation's schools experienced a $41.5 billion, or 14 percent increase in 2001, according to American School and University (AS&U) magazine's 28th Annual Official Education Construction Report. Of that figure, colleges and universities spent $14.7 billion on new facilities, additions and modernization of existing buildings with 40 percent of those projects involving technology infrastructure.

"Certainly there's a real driving force for universities to do the best they can in terms of infrastructure," said Mary L. Pretz-Lawson, assistant director of operations, computing services, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and 2002-03 board member of the Association for Telecommunications Professionals in Higher Education. "We're educating the next generation of people who will be managing networks and infrastructures. On the other hand we're all nonprofits so money is an issue. It's important to the university to provide the best infrastructure they can on a limited dollar."

Those dollars add up. Facilities needs for higher-education institutions are expected to reach $61 billion for construction through 2004, according to the AS&U report. In Texas alone, more than $900 million is allocated for construction and renovation on university campuses throughout the state in 2002. A bill passed by the Texas legislature provides for $1.1 billion in revenue bonds to finance construction projects through fiscal 2006. Since universities mandate that all buildings be technologically outfitted and network-ready, allocation of funds means contracts for electrical contractors and cabling companies.

What's the overall situation of connectivity at universities nationwide? Infrastructure varies from institution to institution. Many have old buildings that need complete upgrades. Others have new buildings. Others have buildings wired with older cable that is incapable of reaching high-speed Internet access.

CMU is rated most-wired

Yahoo Internet Life, an online magazine, publishes an annual list rating the nation's most-wired colleges and universities. Carnegie Mellon was the No. 1 wired university in 2001 and 2000. While there is some controversy about their rating formula (the criteria is clear but the formula is not), Yahoo's list is a measure. The University of Dayton in Ohio made No. 16, but Soka University of America in Orange County, Calif., newly opened in 2001, is not yet on the list. A look at the technology infrastructure and how it was installed at these three institutions gives a glimpse into the rapidly changing technology requirements of universities today.

At Carnegie Mellon, a national research university of about 7,500 students, and 3,000 faculty, and research and administrative staff, there are more than 9,000 computers and work stations that link to the "Andrew" computer network,a system launched in 1985. "We're rated the most-wired in 2000 and 2001 by Yahoo," said Dave Zumbo, CMU's communications facilities coordinator, "but they don't mean physically wired but most networked. Last summer we completed a project that made the whole campus wireless in all academic as well as residential buildings. No matter where you go on campus, if you have a wireless laptop with a wireless card you can stay on the network.

CMU is part of a small percentage of institutions that are entirely wireless. Their wireless system is supplementary to the hard wiring on campus, which provides users with faster speeds. "Presently our network system is an Ethernet, 10/100 Mbps system (10BaseT/100BaseT), but since we've started using Cat. 5e, a 100-ohm cable, meeting Gigabit speed (1000BaseT) will be no problem," said Zumbo. "It's just around the corner. We're running Gigabit speed over fiber optics on the backbone and we're ready to jump up to 10 Gigabit. The way I see it, in the not too far distance we'll be able to supply Gigabit speed to the desktops because the Cat. 5e is capable of handling this kind of network speeds. Our network-engineering people are on top of the latest developments in the industry to provide CMU with the most up-to-date networking. And the school of computer science works hand in hand with network engineering."

In 1995, when the university built the Pittsburgh Technology Center it used a UTP (unshielded twisted pair). "We decided it was more cost-effective to start installing Cat. 5e in new buildings rather than spend money on a system that was dying out," says Zumbo. From 1983-1987 the university was wired with the IBM Type 1 and Type 2, a hybrid, 150-ohm cable capable of 10/100 Mbps but incapable of faster speeds like Gigabit because it had only two pair for networking.

"That sort of opened a can of worms with existing buildings already wired with IBM, which would require additional space for the new Cat. 5," added Zumbo. "With the wireless project, we did just that, converting or adding additional racks that would handle our Cat. 5 installs for the wireless as well as future data installs."

Choosing a system

To choose a system, in 1998 CMU did an in-house product analysis of the top manufacturers of UTP Cat. 5 cable, testing attenuation to crosstalk ratio structural return loss (SRL), propagation/skew delay up to 155MHz. Their decision was to go with Avaya, a division that spawned from Lucent, a company that guarantees end-to-end in the structured cable system.

CMU then upped its own ante by developing its own standards. "We decided to develop stricter standards based on the EIA-TIA 568A, 569A, 606 and TSB 67, BICSI and the IEEE 802.3," continued Zumbo. "We've fine-tuned our contractors to meet our demands and they have. That makes everyone happy in the long run, staff, faculty and especially students, which is our main concern."

Are the contractors happy? "Their standards are very, very stringent, right down to the jack locations, the color, wiring scheme," said Gary Shrefler, vice president of sales and marketing, Miller Information Services, a cabling company that worked with Sargent Electric Co. of Pittsburgh on CMU projects and is involved in projects at Penn State, Washington and Jefferson College and a host of other colleges. "Their patch panels, their wire management, every closet is almost identical to every other closet on campus."

Hanlon Electric, a 70-year old company in Monroeville, Pa., garnered many of the electrical contracts at CMU. In January, they created a new division, Hanlon Network Services, to handle data and communications cabling work. The projects,$300,000 to $400,000 a year,have included the campus fiber optic backbone upgrade, the University Center, Purnell Center, Wean Hall Computer Clusters and the Lucent Wireless LAN Project. "CMU is extremely technologically oriented," said Mike Hanlon, the company president. "For us, it's been hundreds of projects. At CMU, the buildings vary greatly in architecture. Some are 1 year old while others are 70 years old. It's a challenge to get cables around some of the buildings so that it is acceptable to the campus architects."

His advice for other contractors? "In an academic environment, the problem is coordination. All work has to be scheduled," Hanlon said. "And with all of the people, you have to watch the noise. You constantly have students and faculty around and have to be monitoring your safety and theirs."

Working around schoolwork

Coordination with the academic schedule affects the construction schedule at almost any university according to Shrefler. "Working at a college is not like working at a high school where you have all summer. Colleges and universities are busy all year round," he said. "You're always working around inhabited space. You have to do the work in phases. When we were doing the CMU computer sciences building, we did the third floor. All the people moved out and we had a very strict timeline for our work. Then the people on the second floor moved out and we moved in and others moved back to the third. It entails very, very detailed coordination."

Coordination is definitely what it took to wire the neighborhood around the University of Dayton, Ohio's largest private university with more than 10,000 students, including 6,600 full-time undergraduates. At UD, university-owned housing includes dorms and 300 single-family homes in a 20-block area around campus, some of which were built from the 1920s to1940s by the NCR Corp., and purchased by the university as student housing. Wagner-Smith Electrical Contractors of Dayton won the $4 million contract for the project that extended the phone system as well as the data network and UD's cable TV system to the homes. "It was a mad dash for three months for three summers," said Wagner-Smith general manager John O'Meara of the $4 million project, since work was limited to when the students were not in residence.

Kastle Technologies, a division of Kastle Electric of Dayton, subcontracted on one phase of the cabling. "We put things in during a summer that usually takes a year to do," said general manager Lyman Smith, whose company garnered several other campus projects, each of which amounted to from $100,000 to $250,000.

Dayton goes digital

At UD, ranked by the Yahoo survey as Ohio's most-wired university, when the network was installed in the early 1990s, only one network drop was placed in each room. Two or three students shared a computer that accessed the network that is now a Gigabit Ethernet backbone--fiber cabling to the buildings, fiber risers in the buildings and then Cat. 5 copper from closets to the desktops--connected to Novell servers using Cisco networking equipment. In 1997, when the university decided to require all incoming students to buy desktop computers--from UD--they became one of a fraction of universities (11 percent nationally) that requires students to own computers. They also had to upgrade. "We had to make it possible for them to use them," said Tim Harrington, assistant CIO, IT infrastructure, "so we embarked on doubling the number of ports on the network from 6,000 to 12,000."

Since all incoming students will be required to purchase laptops by 2003, the university is remodeling classrooms, making them wireless according to 80211A-IEEE industry standards and enabling students to plug in at every desk. In the law school, rated one of the country's Top 10 most-wired law schools by National Jurist Magazine, every seat in the moot court is already wired.

"Each year," said Harrington, "we invest $400,000 to $700,000 in our network to expand it and keep it up to speed." The university has its own electrical and networking staff but subcontracts out larger jobs. They maintain a HV distribution system throughout campus, 12 kV loop and 4 kV loop. They also installed a new duct bank system for telecommunications and network fiber optic cables, expanded the 15-kV loop system and did some general remodeling and upgrades throughout the campus.

Does this mean that students are studying more? They can't complain of lack of opportunity. Even the soccer field is wired. "We set up 20 to 30 weatherproof ports in the stands at the field," said O'Meara. "Kids plug in their laptops and work while they watch the games."

Keeping pace is hard to do

Keeping up with speed and connection demands is not just a challenge for established institutions. It can be a challenge for new ones as well. Soka University of America, a lay Buddhist organization, opened in fall 2001. Every one of the 200 students received a laptop (included in tuition) so they could plug into any of the 3,800 ports on campus,each featuring two data-communications and one voice-communication jack. The first phase of construction involved 14 new buildings, approximately 600,000 square feet. "The cabling infrastructure was a huge undertaking," said Mark Duffield, manager of systems and networking. "Enterprise Electric did a fantastic job, end-to-end."

Enterprise Electric, a 26-year-old company in Temecula, Calif., along with Enterprise Datacom, its 4-year-old voice and data communications division, completed the $2 million labor contract for a campuswide cable infrastructure consisting of a fiber optic backbone with more than 18 miles of single-mode and multimode cable providing connectivity for voice, data, building-management systems, central lighting control, security, fire alarm, CATV and CCTV. The copper backbone system is more than six miles of cable. Enterprise installed more than 3,000 station locations throughout the 17 building campus with Cat. 5e cable. They built out more than 50 telecommunication rooms with a main data center in the library serving as the central hub for all communication services for the campus.

"We were able to pursue this high technology job," said Ted Kristensen, president of Enterprise, "because of some decisions we made. We hired individuals with extensive experience in the communications industry to form our new division and then, with the help of the IBEW, we were able to use apprentices who trained in the NJATC VDV apprenticeship program here in Orange County. I'm proud of the combined effort of NECA and the IBEW in creating a trained work force."

The infrastructure should have served the university for some time. It will; yet in today's high-tech environment, changes are already being envisioned.

"In terms of hardwiring, it was pretty much state-of-the-art when it was put out to bid," said Duffield. "If we did it now, we'd do more wireless and maybe not run as much copper from building to building. The voice traffic can run over fiber and Cat. 5 via IP (Internet protocol). During the summer we are planning to wire the outdoor areas. In the original bid there was a call for terminating connections outside near the fountains and surrounding the campus green. We decided to just hold off pulling and terminating those connections and applying it towards wireless. The next generation of student laptops all have wireless built in. The campus green, cafeteria and parts of the library will be wireless and then we'll add on the places where people congregate."

"There's a lot of work out there," said Andy Krumm, Enterprise project manager, "and it takes expertise. Our two divisions worked hand in hand." For their efforts, NECA's Orange County chapter awarded Enterprise Electric/Datacom the 2001 Electrical Excellence Award for Telecommunications.

The ultimate wired campus

What would be the ideal setup for a university? "The ultimate," suggested Smith of Kastle Technologies, "would be a network that includes copper, fiber and wireless connectivity. You can use fiber in places that require high speed and intense data communication, copper can cover everybody's needs and wireless allows for the mobile needs of the university, allowing people to be on the network without being tied to a room or location. You could extend it on and off campus. That's the exciting part of university projects. If we could just get budgets to allow them to do it right, it would be wonderful."

And what about the end-user? What do they think is wonderful? Research scientists, professors and students alike no doubt appreciate easy access to data. Yet are college students still college students? In some cases, it seems so. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Random Hall, called MIT's premier nerd dorm by its very own 93 residents, the students are applying their knowledge and taking advantage of the connectivity. Lamenting that they had to lug their laundry down four flights of stairs,only to find the washer engaged,several conceived the idea of The Laundry Server. They mounted photo sensors over the washing machines' LEDs (the "final cycle" indicator), which sent that data back to the central server. It was then posted on a Web site: (http://laundry.mit.edu/). The system has been in use on and off since 1998 and has prompted other dorm residents to create the Bathroom Server.

Why wonder if a shower is free? Log onto (http://bathroom.mit.edu/). Four hundred students a day check the Web site. Ah, college. EC

CASEY, author of "Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World," can be reached at scbooks@aol.com or www.womeninventing.com.