New PA System Streamlines New York School’s Communications

The Genesee Valley School District has adopted IP-based technology to affordably address its evolving communications needs.

New PA System Streamlines New York School’s Communications

As the decades-old public address (PA) system at Genesee Valley School District’s K-12 building continued to struggle, technology director Jeff LaBenne began looking for a replacement.

He didn’t want to swap out the system with a similar solution, but something much more robust and feature-rich to satisfy the evolving communications needs of the school. The administration had recently secured funding for a capital improvement project, so the timing was ideal to explore options for a more advanced and effective campus-wide communications system.

“Security preparedness has become an increasingly important facet of school communications, and IP-based solutions are leading the way,” says LaBenne. However, when it came to looking for a replacement paging system with additional IP-enabled clocks, it got expensive quickly, he says.

“The alternative, IP endpoints with speakers from AtlasIED, that could also display the time, plus play audio for both paging and bell schedules, turned out to be a more affordable option,” LeBenne explains.

An additional benefit was that the IPX family of IP endpoints could utilize the school building’s existing Ethernet network to derive power and distribute audio and video.

“Because we wouldn’t need to get power to every IP speaker location, placement would be easier and more flexible,” LaBenne says. “Speakers that required new cabling would have made the project much more costly and laborious — plus we’d be missing out on some of the useful features bundled into AtlasIED’s IPX series endpoints.”

LaBenne spent a few days outlining the school’s communications needs, identified complementary software from Singlewire to manage the messaging, and plotted ideal positions for a variety of AtlasIED’s IPX series endpoints in classrooms, hallways, gymnasiums, auditoriums and more.

VIEW OUR SLIDESHOW OF THE INSTALLATION

AtlasIED weather-resistant, vandal-proof IP speakers were selected for exterior spaces, ensuring that critical announcements are heard during recess, football games and other outdoor activities. Handling the project largely on his own, LaBenne started the process in the summer of 2019 and had the system up and running by fall in time for the start of school.

A system that supports bell schedules and live announcements may have been at the top of LaBenne’s shopping list, but the AtlasIED solution came with several other benefits. The IPX family of IP endpoints integrate seamlessly with the existing Singlewire communications software running on a Cisco server. The school district had been using Singlewire previously to distribute alerts over the school’s existing Cisco phone system, so all it took was some additional licensing to introduce additional security and communications features to the new IP network.

The IPX built-in flashers and display enhance school communications further. For example, flashers on each endpoint can illuminate in red to convey that there is an emergency — with or without any audible messaging.

“Previously, administrators had to make real-time announcements on the fly, sometimes during duress — never a good situation,” LaBenne says.

Now, should someone initiate an emergency alert by dialing a special extension or pressing an emergency button on any phone, the IPX endpoints flash in a red color and scrolling text with instructions appear on the speakers’ displays.

To simplify emergency communications for staff, LaBenne programmed one-button activation of pre-recorded messages for situations including shelter-in-place, lockdown, lockout and all clear.

“And because the speakers in the IPX endpoints are so efficient, we can play the volume of messages much louder than other speakers would allow,” he adds.

The AtlasIED/Singlewire pairing also excels at delivering routine, non-emergency announcements, including bells throughout the school day. Six hundred elementary-, middle-, and high-school students are housed in a single building, yet follow different schedules. The Singlewire software allowed LaBenne to group specific AtlasIED speakers and IP endpoints together and create a bell schedule for each zone. The schedule can be easily modified, and audio zones altered to reflect events like an early, campus-wide dismissal due to inclement weather.

LaBenne also appreciates the look of the devices.

“The IPX family of IP endpoints from AtlasIED simply look better than any speaker on the market,” he says. “With their built-in clock, which was programmed to display the same green as our school color, and attractive housing and mounting options, they make our school look great.”

The colored-coded messaging also enables the school to more effectively communicate events — red for emergencies, green for routine announcements, for example. At a glance, students and staff understand the nature of the message, enhancing safety protocols and procedures dramatically for the school district.

Thanks to a variety of design options in AtlasIED’s IPX endpoint line, LaBenne was able to choose the perfect product for every area of the school — more than 200 IP speakers throughout the 230,500-square-foot building and several outdoor locations. In hallways, he went with dual-sided IP-DDS endpoints so that students could see and hear messages no matter which direction they were walking.

Surface-mounted IP-SDMF endpoints with integrated flashers, meanwhile, went into most classrooms, offices and gymnasiums, with flasher colors customized to illuminate in green for non-critical events and red for emergencies. To deliver audible messages to restrooms and stairwells, LaBenne used IP-SM speakers, and for outdoor areas, some existing analog speakers were replaced with IP-HVP speakers.

For the few existing outdoor analog speakers that remained, LaBenne employed a gateway that converts digital audio signals to analog so they can relay the same audible notifications as the IPX endpoints.

In addition to supporting the school’s PA needs, the AtlasIED IPX family of IP endpoints are said to have enhanced the efficiency of Genesee Valley’s emergency and safety protocols through modern, flexible technology that replaces the manual communications processes of the past.

Check out images of the installation in this slideshow.

Equipment List

  • (150) IP-SDMF PoE+ Compliant IP Dual-Sided LCD Endpoint with Speakers and LED Flasher
  • (23) IP-SM PoE+ Indoor Wall/Ceiling Mount IP Endpoint
  • (30) IP-DDS PoE+ Compliant IP Dual Sided LCD Endpoint with Speakers and LED Flasher
  • (18) IP-HVP PoE+ Vandal and Weather Resistant Wall-Mount IP Endpoint

This article originally appeared in CS sister publication Security Sales & Integration and has been edited.

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