HCCSC to get upgrade to its wide area network

Technology at most local schools will soon get a boost in Internet speed as school officials recently approved an upgrade to its wide area network.

Information about the proposed upgrade was first presented to the Huntington County Community School Corporation's Board of Trustees on Jan. 12, but since that time a few changes were made and a new proposal was presented to and unanimously approved by the board on March 9. Tom Ashley, HCCSC's director of technology, has been looking into the upgrades for the corporation for several years.

"Back in January we were talking about a very exciting project to upgrade our wide area network capabilities so we can do a lot more things," Ashley reminded the board. "Since the last time I was here, all the final numbers came in and, it was sort of a tough decision, but the reason I produced some additional paperwork is that we've decided to remove Salamonie from the fiber project and go ahead and go with a wireless connection for now for them."

Currently, the school corporation's Internet capabilities range from 1.5 megabytes - its slowest speed - to 150 megabytes, 450 megabytes, and 1,000 megabytes - its fastest speed. The Internet is also being provided to the schools through a variety of services. The upgrade project would streamline that process as eight facilities will be upgraded to fiber optics, three schools remaining on or being upgraded to wireless connections, and one building continuing with the slower t-1 connection.

Schools to be upgraded to 1,000-megabyte capabilities through fiber optics include Huntington North High School, Crestview and Riverview middle schools, and Flint Springs, Horace Mann, Lancaster, Lincoln, and Northwest elementary schools. The corporation's Administrative Service Center (ACS) will also receive the upgrade.

Roanoke and Salamonie schools will be boosted from their current 1.5-megabyte ATT T1 connections to 200-megabyte wireless connections. Two facilities will not receive upgrades - Andrews will continue to operate with its 150-megabyte wireless connection and the corporation's Instructional Service Center will continue with its 1.5 megabyte ATT T1 connection.

The original plan included upgrading Salamonie School to the 1,000-megabyte fiber optics connection, but that upgrade would have increased the costs for the corporation considerably, Ashley noted.

"By removing Salamonie from the (fiber optics) project, there is a one-year additional cost of $111,504.51 for the wireless construction at the school," he said. "However, there is a significant savings over the five-year contract. The project cost with Salamonie would be $210,317.97 per year compared to $136,642 without them for a difference of $73,675.97 per year."

Much of the cost for the upgrades is paid for through a federal grant, Ashley explained.

"This whole process will be achieved because we're doing it through something called an E-Rate Grant, which is a federal telecommunications grant," he said. "It's a year-long process that basically I started back in October and takes effect July 1 of this upcoming summer."

Grant money comes by way of a universal service fee charged to all telecommunications customers, whether they are individuals or businesses, Ashley continued.

"So all that money goes to a big pot of money at the federal government somewhere," he said. "There's about four or five different levels of applications that you have to go through but what it does is for schools is, it's developed based on your free and reduced lunch percentage. Huntington schools gets a 54 percent discount for these types of services."

Only certain services can be applied for at the level of Huntington County schools free and reduced lunches, such as wide area networks, but as the percentage goes up, other services such as internal wiring and hardware can also be included, Ashley explained. School corporations initially have to pay full price for their upgrades, but then get money back via the grant program. The money the corporation gets back can't be used for just any purpose, Ashley noted.

"The money we get back goes into its own separate fund, and it has to be used for technology," Ashley said.

Superintendent Tracey Shafer commended Ashley's work on the project and agreed that this technology upgrade is of extreme importance to the entire corporation.

"Every school is going to have an improved communications system by a mega dose and you're going to be able to do it pretty cost efficiently," Shafer told the board. "I think Mr. Ashley looked at the biggest bang for the buck and as a result of that we're going to get the most efficient price.

"This is something we really so desperately needed to do because the chunkiness of the information we're sending every day gets thicker and chunkier," Shafer went on to say. "Every day we wait, it gets more difficult, and probably more expensive. I think we've got a pretty good deal here and I think we want to take advantage of that."

Ashley was appreciative of the Board's approval and is thrilled the upgrade process can finally move forward.

"I feel really good about the project and I feel really good about the direction because this has been a project that I have been trying to get achieved for about seven years," Ashley said. "This is really where we need to be to advance our instruction, to advance our capabilities to our schools, and these are some of the other areas that we need to get to to support our students' education."