Chicago Public School Rehab Earns an A+

By Deborah L. O’Mara | Mar 15, 2003




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Sharlen Electric Company in Chicago didn’t balk at the scope of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) project; it set course for a superior integrated-systems installation.

The old adage, “Too many cooks spoil the broth,” just wasn’t true when it came to a massive electrical overhaul at the Jones College Preparatory High School in Chicago. It was only through coordination and planning between all contractors and the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) that successful integration of new power, lighting, fire, voice-data-video, controls and security was accomplished for the multibuilding campus located south of the Loop.

A total, turnkey rehabilitation priced at around $3 million, the installation placed the latest communications, life-safety and closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance technology at the CPS’s fingertips both on and off site. Sharlen Electric Company has worked previously with CPS and other school systems.

Sharlen’s technicians installed the conduit, wiring, power, and related hardware and software for the services. CPS personnel made some final equipment terminations and handles maintenance. The project integrated all systems and an existing access-control unit. Networks were established between classrooms, offices and off-site locations.

Defining state of the art

Installing state-of-the-art technology while being able to quickly troubleshoot the network or LAN was a necessity, said Linda Newsome, Jones School’s technology coordinator. Sharlen supervisors and technicians were able to explain each step of the process, she said, and they addressed specific questions or requests concerning technology deployment.

“The main data-frame (MDF) room is impressive. Data cabling is run in conduit, dedicated outlets have been installed where necessary, and so on,” Newsome said. “If I have a problem with a computer or a media device, I know exactly where to go to find the connection with the way the job is set up.”

The Sharlen Group, run by President Sharon Cullen, is divided into: the A-Card Division, which handles power, lighting and life-safety systems; the Communications or C-Card Division, which installs data, voice, video and security; and Sharlen’s Sign & Design Division.

Down to guts

While it wasn’t new construction, it might as well have been. Crews, embarking on the job of replacing all power and communications wiring and retrofitting older buildings, knew they had their work cut out for them.

A new, conventional fire-alarm system (city codes do not permit addressables), LANS, WANS, fiber optics, intercom and paging systems, time and attendance, intrusion detection, power, lighting and digital signal processing color cameras were some of the products installed. There was also new construction, including a two-story “link” between buildings. The Jones School also includes a six-story main building, which was renovated with a new entrance-atrium. The project began in June 2001 and was completed in August 2002.

There were many challenges, but coordination and planning set the stage for success. An initial obstacle was how to log progress, keeping hundreds of students safe and sound. Originally, plans called for the students to remain in the building from start to finish, but as worked progressed, it was evident that their safety could not be assured. Entire walls had to be demolished, and it was not possible to cordon off only certain areas, students were moved to Near North Metro High School for the entire academic year.

“There were logistical problems working with the students present,” said Eddie Brophy, Sharlen’s Communications Division project manager. “We needed to do a lot of demolition and a lot of iron work, and it was a little too dangerous.”

David Lambert, chief engineer at the Jones School, concurred, and said the school is extremely happy with the installation results.

“We were breaking down walls and redoing or installing electrical where there was no electrical service before. It was impossible to do with the students here,” he said. “Sharlen had a good plan, though. They went in and knew what they had to do.”

Proper planning

Proper planning between all parties was key. Brophy coordinated all low-voltage for the renovation, except fire and lighting. Donald Voss, senior project manager for the Jones installation and project manager for Sharlen’s A-Card Division, was in charge of power, fire and lighting parameters. Brophy said schools have their own guidelines and standards

“They called on Sharlen for information in finding the system to meet their needs,” he said. “One of the CPS’s concerns was properly grounded systems, to ensure the overall integrity of security.”

Category 5e cabling was installed throughout and networked to the LAN, with fiber optics as the backbone. The installation also included all racks in the MDF room. Installation technicians ran six-strand fiber optic cabling to concentrator boxes, which served as the voice, computer, multimedia and other voice-data-video control operations for up to three classrooms.

Camera installation

For interior surveillance, 29 fixed, closed-circuit, 1/3-inch CCD cameras were placed throughout the school in key areas, such as public spaces, elevators, entrances and exits. A matrix-switching system, installed for surveillance control, records constantly to two digital video recorders. After hours, cameras detect movement and automatically report and record alarm conditions, which can be viewed at posted locations throughout the school and by CPS central offices, with alarms automatically posted to both locations.

In its effort to be a solutions-oriented service provider, Sharlen built two, super-durable pedestals to anchor the access-control readers in the main lobby, which already had metal detectors.

“We couldn’t find anything that was heavy-duty enough, so our Sign Division fabricated the perfect equipment,” Brophy said.

The sheer magnitude of the job and the issue of life safety with regards to different parts of the facility required expertise in code requirements, said Voss. Another part of the new construction included an atrium in the school’s entrance, featuring a vast stairwell.

“The stairwell had to be addressed according to life-safety and fire codes and in addition, the six-story building qualified as a high-rise, so further code provisions applied,” Voss said.

There was also the “nature of the unknown, magnified further by a long lapse between the initial proposal and installation,” said Henry Ryan, senior project manager for general contractor, The George Sollitt Construction Co. in Wood Dale, Ill. “It was some time from the point that the plans were drawn until the installation began. But Sharlen quickly identified any weaknesses and brought answers to the table.”

A portion of the project was funded as part of the CPS Capital Improvement Program. Sollitt open-bid the work and subcontracted electrical, mechanical and plumbing. Many people from Sharlen were involved throughout the job. Robert Sons was the general foreman and on-site superintendent. Field technician Charlie Cody was the foreman for intercom and voice-data-video and Mike Hogan supervised CCTV and intrusion detection.

The architect was Solomon Cordwell Buenz & Associates in Chicago, and Environmental System Design (ESD) in Chicago did the equipment specification.

“We selected the latest, user-friendly equipment and also, products that could be easily expanded for future needs,” said Antonio Wright, associate project manager for security at ESD. “Privacy issues, with regards to the application of CCTV, were considerations in the placement of cameras.”

A large, complex project such as the Jones School could have quickly turned sour without the cooperation, coordination and expertise of all parties involved. An integrated-systems approach only achieves success with careful planning and teamwork from all points.

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or [email protected].


About The Author

O’MARA writes about security, life safety and systems integration and is managing director of DLO Communications. She can be reached at [email protected] or 773.414.3573.





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