NSD updates network connections over summer

This modernization project is made possible by the approval of the 2018 bond.

As part of a multi-year school network modernization project, the Northshore School District (NSD) has made significant network updates at a number of its schools across the district throughout the summer.

The majority of the schools had networks installed in the early 1990s with cable that cannot support current network needs. The upgrades this summer will increase the network speeds, expand wireless coverage areas, and improve reliability for students and staff.

Jon Wiederspan, the NSD network operations manager, said the district’s current network setup cannot support current technology.

“The network cable in most of our schools was installed in the early 1990s. When it was installed, there were no wireless networks, no tablets or smartphones, and schools were just starting to use computers as part of instruction,” he said. “Now, over 20 years later, the cable that was installed is not capable of supporting the network speeds needed for the changes we know are coming in the next five to 10 years. In addition, the networks were only installed in classrooms, offices, and some library spaces, leaving many areas such as the gym, cafeteria, theater, and many library spaces without needed network coverage. The network connections were also installed only in walls, making it difficult to provide wireless coverage which typically needs to be placed on a ceiling.”

Inglemoor High School (IHS) and several middle schools will see significant network updates.

Prior to these network upgrades, Wiederspan said all district schools have adequate network facilities in classrooms and most office areas for current use, but that coverage will not support new projects such as the 1:1 computing project, which will significantly increase the number of computers active throughout the schools at all times. Current coverage also will not support the continuing move to online curricular material and cloud-hosted services, or the extension of computing activity to non-classroom spaces such as a gym, cafeteria, or theater.

IHS classrooms will be updated with Cat6a cable in the ceiling that will support the new 5 Gbps standard for wireless access points.

In addition, IHS will receive newly installed network connections and existing ones will be upgraded in all large spaces that were not previously well covered with wireless. This includes the gym, commons/cafeteria, library, theater, music rooms, weight/exercise rooms, special program locations, and the planetarium.

Six middle schools — Canyon Park, Kenmore, Leota, Northshore, Skyview and Timbercrest — will have new network connections that were previously not well covered.

Secondary Academy for Success will also receive new network connections for the gym and commons areas. Warehouse areas, especially those used by the technology department for equipment imaging and setup, will receive additional wireless network coverage.

Wiederspan said the modernization projects will improve the networks in three ways.

“They will replace old fiber optic cable that connects buildings with newer cable that can support much higher speeds to handle the increased network activity. Second, they will provide high speed copper network cable in the ceilings of classrooms and office spaces to enable higher speed connections to wireless network equipment, which will support more devices and more network usage,” he said. “Third, they will add high speed copper network cable in spaces that previously did not have any wireless network coverage, such as a gym, cafeteria, or theater.”

This modernization project is made possible by the approval of the 2018 bond. The School Network Modernization Project began in the District’s 2014 Bond, which paid for the first three phases of the project and upgrades in all secondary schools as well as two elementary schools with significant issues in the original design of their networks. The project continues in the district’s 2018 bond with four more planned phases, one of which is in process this summer to complete expanded coverage in all middle schools and one high school.

“The original planning for this project began in 2012 with a review of existing school networks when it became clear that the trends toward more computing devices, more online services, and expanding wireless network coverage was going to result in problems in the future for our existing network cable plants,” Wiederspan said.

The goal of the projects is to complete the network improvements before the network starts to cause noticeable problems for students or teachers. Without this work, there is a great risk of network slowdowns and outages that would likely impact any number of our 23,000 students and 3,000 staff at any time.