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Bring performance to the bench
Proper planning by Bill Ward delivered a quality cabling infrastructure to a new state-of-the-art courthouse and new standards to North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County.
Proper planning by Bill Ward delivered a quality cabling infrastructure to a new state-of-the-art courthouse and new standards to North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County.

County requires detailed product and installation specifications in bids for new courthouse.

When Mecklenburg County, N.C., built a 1,000-bed jail in the 1990s, the bidding process for the network cabling infrastructure did not include detailed specifications in regard to system type, system performance or contractor qualifications. “The jail ended up with a minimally compliant Category 5e solution,” explains Bill Ward, county network communications specialist. “The end result was a system that simply did not work.”

Another contractor was hired to repair the jail’s cabling infrastructure to function as well as possible, but a subsequent 900-bed addition was built, with similar results. “A bid can’t just declare, ‘Install a structured wiring system. Thank you.’ It must include exact performance specifications,” Ward says.

State and local government agencies have long faced the challenge of serving the public interest while facing restricted budgets and increased taxpayer scrutiny. When selecting a network cabling infrastructure, these challenges have often resulted in a hodgepodge of components from different vendors, minimally compliant technology and unqualified contractors. No one knows this predicament better than Ward.

With a population of nearly 800,000, Mecklenburg County encompasses Charlotte and its surrounding metro area. When Ward took the position as network communications specialist for the county, he was appointed the task of project management for a new $143-million courthouse.

The eight-level courthouse was intended as a state-of-the art example for other courts throughout the state. Ward set out to make sure the new courthouse cabling infrastructure would be better planned and executed.

He began the process by hiring HDR, a technology consulting firm with experience in the government sector. “During the early phases of the project, the state decided it wanted to go totally wireless, but HDR and I agreed that wireless as a sole platform was not a valid idea at that time,” says Ward. “We spent several days turning out a set of specifications that called for a specific Category 6 solution that left nothing to chance.”

Throughout his 18 years with the county, Ward had become familiar with several vendors’ cable and connectivity solutions. For several smaller projects throughout the county that did not require a full-scale bid process, Ward had migrated to a Hubbell Premise Wiring connectivity solution. For the much larger courthouse project, Ward recommended a 25-year warranted system installed by an experienced certified contractor.

“It was important for the new courthouse to be compatible with other certified Mecklenburg County installations, as this would allow us to stock interchangeable components and not violate the warranty,” says Ward. “Rack space was at a premium for the new courthouse, and only Hubbell offered the products we needed.”

The Mecklenburg County Board of County Commissioners approved the specification of Hubbell Premise Wiring connectivity and certified contractors, as well as mandatory test equipment, a registered communications distribution designer on staff and other workmanship specifications.

To select only qualified contractors to participate in the bidding, Ward visited the potential bidders’ installations, verified their Hubbell certified installer paperwork and chose 12 Charlotte-based, qualified bidders. Through the formal bidding process, Network Cabling Systems (NCS) was selected. “By far, NCS installations were the best example of how I wanted the courthouse completed. Every single cable could be easily tracked all the way to the jack,” says Ward. “Furthermore, aesthetics was a very important factor for the project.”

In North Carolina, counties build and maintain court facilities, while the state occupies and runs them. This meant that Ward faced the unique challenge of designing and implementing an infrastructure that would ultimately be managed and utilized by someone else.

“The state will locate between 600 and 800 employees at the new courthouse, while the county is slated for fewer than 100,” explains Ward. “The cabling infrastructure, therefore, had to be planned and designed for the unknown, making sure to implement plenty of connections and space for future growth and technologies.”

The courthouse infrastructure includes three Category 6 connections per workstation to accommodate both data and the state’s likely future move to voice over IP (VoIP). Within the 35 individual courtrooms, a fourth workstation connection is provided to enable sharing evidence or other case-specific documentation over a secured, private courtroom LAN.

With three Category 6 Hubbell Xcelerator jacks at every location, Ward settled on a red, white and blue color-coded theme for the cabling infrastructure. Color coding the infrastructure facilitates cable management and provides flexibility for moves, adds and changes. For example, all state employees at the courthouse use one color for data and VoIP, county employees use another color for data, and the third color is used for Centrex voice and expansion.

“Courthouse moves, adds and changes are politically complicated, and judges won’t tolerate disruption,” explains Ward. “By color coding the system, we know exactly which jack and cable connects to which termination in the closet, and it cuts down on the time required to identify or modify specific ports.”

In the telecommunications rooms (TR), all red, white and blue Category 6 cables terminate at their own rack via matching colored jacks loaded in Hubbell’s UDX Super High-Density Patch Panels. “For space reasons, the infrastructure required 48 ports in a 1RU patch panel. The high-density patch panels I found were all preconfigured with black ports, which would have required me to color code the patch panels with stickers or other rudimentary methods,” says Ward.

“At the time, Hubbell was the only vendor that offered an unloaded jack patch panel in this size that could be configured in the field with any color jacks. This enabled me to carry the color-coding scheme through to the TR for better manageability.”

In addition, Ward needed to ensure ample rack space for future growth in the main data center and in more than 20 telecommunications rooms throughout the courthouse. To mount patch panels and network equipment, Ward selected Hubbell’s iFRAME hardware management.

Ward also selected the iFRAME for its cable-management features. Spools along the sides of the I-beam columns line up with rack positions and do not interfere with cable exiting horizontal organizers, simplifying cable routing and future modifications at the courthouse.

From the November 2006 issue of Communications News

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