Spokane Journal of Business

District 81 initiates technology spending

Nearly $11 million in work has been awarded; district to spend $26.6 million total

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Spokane School District 81 has begun spending part of about $26.6 million it has earmarked for a complete technology upgrade at all of its schools.

The first wave of spendingfrom which several Spokane businesses will benefitincludes $14.3 million for the installation of voice and data wiring to the classrooms in all but six of the schools, which either have been or will be rewired separately, and between all of the schools. Those outlays also will pay for a new telephone system that will serve the entire district, says Joe Austin, director of technology for District 81.

Austin says the school district has awarded about $11 million in contracts to four companies that will complete most of that work. Another about $3.3 million is to be awarded this fall for electrical work that involves expanding the electrical capacity and the number of outlets in each classroom.

In addition to installing voice and data wiring and a new phone system that will accommodate telephones in every classroom, other work involves putting computer-network routing switches in all of the districts buildings.

The remaining $12.3 million will be spent over the next three to five years on computers and related gear. The district already has made plans to spend part of that money. Earlier this year, it placed a $2.9 million order to buy 1,000 computers and related equipment, says Austin.

The companies that will complete the $11 million in voice and data communications upgrades are WWP Fiber Inc., a subsidiary of Spokane-based Washington Water Power Co.; Aztech Electric Inc., of Spokane; Packet Engines Inc., of Spokane; and Touch America Inc., a subsidiary of Butte, Mont.-based Montana Power Co.

WWP Fibers $930,000 contract calls for installing a network of fiber-optic cable that will carry all of the districts voice and data communications outside of its buildings. The cable will be strung on WWP power poles, and will provide the district with data transmission speeds that are even higher than what is currently used by businesses here, says Austin. The project is to be completed by next March.

Aztech Electrics $6 million contract, meanwhile, calls for installing copper wiring to classrooms at 43 of the districts 49 schools. Those wires will carry voice and data communications between the individual rooms in a school building and to a router switch in each building that will be connected to the new fiber-optic network.

Aztechs contract also includes extending the fiber-optic cable from each schools doorstep to a router switch inside. The switching equipment needed for the system is to be installed by Packet Engines under a separate contract.

Dennis Schweikhardt, manager of technology infrastructure for District 81, says the wiring work at two schools, Salk Middle School and Regal Elementary, nearly is complete and that wiring at the rest of the districts buildings will continue throughout 1998-99 school year and next summer.

Aztech has subcontracted with a Mukilteo, Wash.-based telephone and computer cable installation company called Custom Cabling Northwest to help carry out its project. Custom Cabling has opened a Spokane branch office, at 104 N. Madelia, and has put about a dozen employees on the district job.

Packet Engines $1.7 million contract, meanwhile, calls for installation of a main data switch at the districts administration building at 200 N. Bernard, as well as installation of switching equipment within all of the districts other buildings.

Finally, the district has awarded a $2.3 million contract to Touch America to replace the districts telephone system. That work involves setting up to handle 24 voice lines in each school and telephones in each classroom. Currently, none of the schools classrooms has a telephone, and most of the schools have only seven phone lines.

All of the technology work is being funded by proceeds from a $74.5 million bond approved by voters in February.

In addition to stringing the fiber-optic cable that will serve District 81, WWP Fiber is stringing cable throughout Spokane for a consortium of educational institutions called the Educational Metropolitan Area Network. The project is designed to link all K-12 school districts, the community colleges here, Washington State University at Spokane, Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, Whitworth College, and others in a single computer network.

  • Chad Cain

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