Networked controls for a 21st century university

By Theodore G. Fowler, PE, LEED AP, and Salvatore Bonetto, RCDD, EIT, Cannon Design, Grand Island, N.Y. March 1, 2009

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Have you ever asked “What will the 21st century university look like?” The was the question posed to Cannon Design when Ave Maria University (AMU) began planning a completely new campus near Naples, Fla. An optimal system for building controls, telecom, audio/visual, and safety was the answer.

For decades, the 16-division Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) MasterFormat has been the standard in building design and construction. However, as technology—particularly network technology—has evolved, it is clear the old standards do not address the integrated systems designed into today’s buildings.

The need for construction specifications to reflect current building practices prompted CSI to develop Division 17 for Technology and Communications Infrastructure . The Division 17 initiative began in 1998 to ensure that telecommunication systems are designed into a building during the design phase of the project.

Designers realized that AMU’s technology systems would require an integrated approach to design and construction. As Cannon Design and Sinopoli Assocs ., the university’s “smart building” consultant, found out, most construction specifications do not fully address integrated technology systems. Therefore, a key element in the technology specification process was the use of Division 17.

Cannon Design and Sinopoli Assocs. ultimately integrated more than a dozen systems into AMU including:

  • Fire alarm and life safety systems

  • BAS, temperature control, and systems monitoring

  • Security door monitoring, card access, and CCTV systems

  • Low-voltage lighting control systems

  • Electrical power and power quality digital metering systems

  • Smartcard campus security and debit card systems

  • Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and emergency (Blue Phone) telephone systems

  • Video distribution systems

  • Structured cabling system

  • Primary and backup data centers, packaged UPS, and cooling systems

  • Vertical telecommunications rooms, active components, and UPS systems

  • Facility maintenance and management system.

Providing network control

Most buildings and campuses have individual networks or controls for each of these systems. The premise is that if each system operates over the same network, significant savings could be achieved and centralized operations enhanced. The AMU technology systems are fully integrated; the control, security, maintenance, administrative, and accounting systems throughout the campus use the same structured cabling systems. Unified on the campuswide fiber optic backbone, the systems are arranged in a loop and radial configuration to allow redundancy in network connections. The system allows for single-point monitoring, and permits the university a real-time snapshot of the entire campus operation and alarm notifications.

Using TCP/IP, an open protocol platform used across the Internet, all systems report to the campus network operations center (NOC). Most systems require the use of a gateway, which translates each system’s signals into TCP/IP code. Each system then speaks the same “language” and can be read at the NOC. The NOC monitors every system on campus. In theory, any campus system can be monitored and operated from any computer with a Web browser, Internet connection, and the correct password.

System controls: HVAC, lighting, and electrical

Via the NOC, the BAS allows central control of the building’s HVAC systems. AMU’s BAS differs from a standard BAS in that AMU’s standard computer cabling connects each piece of mechanical equipment to the fiber optic backbone. No proprietary control system is required.

Since the NOC monitors building occupancy, heating and cooling loads can be adjusted as necessary. Inputting building schedules at the NOC controls HVAC operation without direct human intervention. Equipment maintenance also is enhanced; fans, chillers, and boilers can communicate problems in operation, and scheduled maintenance, directly to the NOC. The NOC operates campus and building lighting systems as well. The low-voltage lighting control system provides both photocell and time management controls for interior and exterior building lights, roadways, walkways, and sports fields. The photocell signals that it is dark and the lights should be turned on, and the time management controls are based on scheduled building activities. The NOC also incorporates an electrical power management system, which digitally monitors normal and emergency building power services, and meters electricity usage.

Keeping the data center online

The NOC is serviced by the main campus data center located in the library. The 1,500-sq-ft data center is one of two that provide redundancy for the NOC and all the technology, facilities, and emergency services provided to the university. The cooling units and UPS are built into each of the server racks. The cooling units tie into a chiller dedicated to the data center, which is isolated from the chiller that serves the rest of the campus.

The server rack manufacturer, American Power Conversion (APC), West Kingston, R.I., took an innovative approach to redundancy. Instead of redundant, 100 kW UPS units, APC daisy-chained true-online, 10 kW UPS modules within the racking system, which accommodate the total power required in the data center. In this case, the center required 80 kW of power, so APC provided N+1 redundancy by installing nine linked 10 kW modules. In addition, the UPS modules are hot-swappable for simple maintenance. The secondary data center has similar features, allowing the campus to survive during catastrophic events and function during certain maintenance events that would limit most universities.

Safety and security systems

The emergency telephones and the fire department alarm notification systems are the only systems not distributed on the fiber optic backbone. In order to meet campus and municipal fire department requirements, the systems must be separate from the other systems.

Door monitoring, proximity card access, and CCTV report campuswide to the NOC. Smartcards are used throughout the campus for student and staff identification. The smartcards are tied to student meal plans, operate vending and laundry machines, provide building and dormitory room access, and have created a “cash-card” culture on campus. This high-capacity computerized control system includes photo identification, magnetic stripe, bar code, and smart proximity technology, all within a single card.

Educational tools

The campus network carries VoIP telephone and educational video distribution systems. Since it rides on the campus backbone, VoIP permits the full array of digital telephone services without phone lines in or between buildings. In classrooms, the video distribution system allows full control of audio-visual equipment, including video recording and transmission, computer presentations, and professional sound systems. The system allows instructors to call up video, audio, and computer presentations directly from the lectern, while a student can access the same presentation on his or her own laptop.

The results

The new AMU campus boasts a fully integrated campus technology system at the most advantageous cost, complete monitoring and operation from a single node, and classrooms that deliver high-tech learning. AMU realized significant benefits from the combination of structured cabling and a fiber optic backbone using an open protocol system. Without utilizing Division 17 to structure a single technology bid package, the approach would have been extremely difficult. Specifying and bidding the technology in this manner provides:

  • A single source of responsibility for technology design and installation

  • Reduced systems engineering, construction labor time, and costs through reduced repetition of cabling and pathways

  • Standardized cabling and pathway identification system

  • Flexibility to accommodate future changes

  • An open protocol, which will allow communication with new products or components

  • Full redundancy of all systems.

The use of Division 17 to bundle technology systems into a single bid package may create some challenges for the engineer and contractor. However, the system represents a new approach to specifying and bidding technology systems.

Author Information
Fowler is principal and group manager of the electrical engineering group at Cannon Design. Bonetto is senior associate at Cannon Design.

Facts and figures

Features of the new Ave Maria University include the following:

908-acre campus

500,000 sq ft of facilities

589 students with capacity for more than 6,000 students

200 faculty and staff

Projected savings of $350,000 in staffing costs

Projected savings of $600,000 in utility costs

Seven full-time employees manage the building and IT systems.

Source: “Johnson Controls and Cisco deliver intelligent buildings to new university”, 2008 case study,

The integration team

Architects, engineers, and facilities managers have been working to integrate building infrastructure systems and produce smart buildings for many years. Although the technology to solve those problems has finally arrived, the job remains difficult because so few examples exist to guide the way. The philosophy behind Division 17 is to avoid locking into systems provided by individual manufacturers.

At the AMU campus, the architects, engineers, and facilities manager worked through a complex set of challenges to reach the goal of integrated multiple nonproprietary systems in all buildings across campus.

Absent a facility director early in the project, the IT director worked with a team—including a software integrator, and mechanical and electrical engineers—to drive the integration. The IT and software expertise proved invaluable in analyzing and determining the appropriate communications protocols for the project’s different parts.

The integration team selected LonWorks due to its ability to operate with multiple manufacturers and communicate down to the device level. LonWorks enabled nonproprietary devices to function with the installed control system, reducing equipment costs.

As the system of choice, LonWorks devices provide the necessary communications for many of the buildings’ systems. A few systems, however, employ alternative communication protocols. These systems required gateways to translate data from one protocol to another. For example, BACnet is used for the temperature control system, and Modbus handles the electrical system. The key was to limit the use of gateways to ensure reliable data translation between systems, which resulted in a more dependable solution for the campus’ operation.

The project did not follow a conventional approach to commissioning. Instead, the IT/facilities director set a series of benchmarks designed to make the integrated system function as efficiently as possible. The system efficiency continues to develop as the university progresses into its second year of operation on the new site. Monitored utility costs are compared to campus historical data and system equipment data. This ensures increased levels of efficiency.