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Cable installation to cause longer dark periods

Kaitlynn Riely | Thursday, January 26, 2006

Without a reliable Internet connection to chat on Instant Messenger, senior Lisa To has felt isolated from her off-campus friends since she returned to school from winter break. To lives in Lyons Hall, one of the four dorms currently undergoing wireless Internet and cable installation.

“It’s been hard because I’ve gotten a wireless card from my rector but the wireless isn’t consistent throughout the dorm,” To said. “It’s been hard finding the hot spots and staying on the wireless.”

The dark period, the time when students will be without phone and Internet service in their rooms during the installation, was originally projected to last three weeks for each dorm.

“In some instances, that [the dark period] is probably going to last longer than we previously thought,” said Jeffrey Shoup, director of the Office of Residence Life and Housing.

Shoup now estimates the installation could take up to six weeks for each dorm.

Due to complications arising from the structures and layouts of the dorms, Notre Dame officials and the University’s contracting company, Koontz-Wagner, have found it necessary to make adjustments to their installation methods.

During Christmas break, Notre Dame installed cable wires and wireless Internet in Sorin, Welsh Family, Keough and Badin halls.

“The contractors are learning as they go,” Shoup said. “The first four that we did over Christmas break helped them to learn how to best organize the job.”

Contractors are currently working in the next batch of dorms – Lyons, Howard, Walsh and Morrissey.

Robert Guthrie, University Program Manager for Strategic Initiatives Planning and Programs, is overseeing the project. The original timetable for installation was largely speculation, Guthrie said, since the contractors could not predict the complications that would arise in individual dorms.

“We have 27 dormitories to do,” Guthrie said, “and the issues that we encountered right off the bat are that the last time this was done was when we put ResNet in … and none of us, including myself, were here then.”

In several dorms, like Badin, Keough and Welsh Family, the conduits in the walls were not large enough to house the new, thicker cable and Internet wires, Guthrie said. The contractors remedied this complication by installing larger conduits to run from the wiring closets in the basement to the dorms’ top floors.

The wiring closets in the dorms are often too small to fit new wires and lack the necessary air conditioning systems to keep the electronics cool. Guthrie and his team are renovating the wire closets to install the new cable and wireless systems and to allow for possible future wiring additions.

Guthrie said ensuring the wireless system can be accessed throughout the dorm once installation is complete is a top priority.

“Wireless is a bit of an art, because the signal is not two-dimensional, it’s three-dimensional,” Guthrie said.

Wireless signals can pass through the floors of older dorms, but in new dorms with steel decking cement floors, the signal does not travel between levels. To circumvent this problem, the contractors must experiment with alternate installation techniques.

Guthrie said he is pleased with the progress thus far. The four dorms completed during break stayed on time and on budget. The contractors aimed for a less than three percent error rate in the wiring installation, Guthrie said. The actual error rate was less than one percent.

Guthrie and his team are paying close attention to the progress being made on the four dorms currently in the midst of installation. He holds check-up meetings twice a week with the contractor, and building overseers keep watch on the process every day.

The original estimate for the date of completion was June 30. The contractors may not actually finish until sometime in July, but definitely before the start of the fall semester, Guthrie said.

Though the project is taking longer than originally expected, Shoup is pleased with the residence hall reaction.

“The rectors and students have been patient and very respectful that this is a big project,” Shoup said.

The University has tried to accommodate residents during the dark period. Temporary wireless connection in dorm social spaces and lounges gives students with laptops nearby Internet accessibility. The University has promised to provide rectors with cell phones and wireless Internet access in order to retain communication lines while their dorms are being renovated.

Guthrie believes wireless Internet will be a well-received addition to the residence halls, pointing to a survey conducted last year that showed wireless in the dorms was a chief demand of students.

“I think the wireless in the dorms is probably the most important thing we’re doing,” Guthrie said.