Blog iconCase Study: Enterprise IT Companies Team Up to Build State-Of-the-Art Smart School

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Case Study: Enterprise IT Companies Team Up to Build State-Of-the-Art Smart School

Jones County is a sparsely populated county located in Trenton, North Carolina. Built in the early 1950s and 1960s, the area’s primary schools – Trenton Elementary, Jones Middle and Jones Senior High School – had become extremely outdated steel buildings. In 2016, it became clear that the cost of upgrading the schools would outweigh the cost of rebuilding them; however, developers were challenged to obtain the funding needed to rebuild the schools in a low wealth, low tax income county. To rebuild the County’s educational facilities, officials and developers set their sights on creating a modern energy-positive school that would replace outdated facilities and enable Jones County to deliver 21st century student learning while eliminating electrical costs from the buildings.

In 2016, there was an agreement to pursue the North Carolina Private-Public-Partnership (3P), a North Carolina funding mechanism that would allow project developers to lease the building to Jones County for 40 years, thus eliminating debt against county tax revenues. Along with the 3P, grants from a variety of other sources were packaged into a proposal and presented to the Board of Education.

Once approvals for the design were received in November 2016, final drawings were completed by June 2017 and construction followed in December 2018.

Opened nearly a year ago, the Jones County PK-12 energy positive facility serves 700 students — 220 elementary, 150 middle and 330 high school students — with 45 teachers and 10 administrative staff members. The facility combines the Jones Senior High School with Jones Middle School and Trenton Elementary School to become the first new school built in Jones County in more than 50 years.

Together with Meeks Professional Services, Carolina Advanced Digital collaborated on the development of the Jones County PK-12 School to deliver and integrate proper solutions and secure the infrastructure to make the solutions operational. The goal was to make the Jones County PK-12 facility like no other energy-positive schools in the nation.  

“Classrooms across the nation are being transformed into flexible learning environments,” said Jennifer Minella, VP of Engineering and Security at Carolina Advanced Digital. “These spaces create a thoughtful, conducive atmosphere for students that inspire them to collaborate and engage in new methods of learning.”

To support the IoT-heavy energy-positive building, complete with traditional connected technologies, facilities control systems and environmental monitoring, Carolina Advanced Digital proposed a best-of-breed blend of solutions. These solutions included everything from wired switching infrastructures and wireless network infrastructure by HPE Aruba, a cloud management platform, and network access control and services for network integration to ongoing management.

Best of all, the solutions are structured to enable cross collaboration and management of the school’s IT infrastructure with the Jones PK-12 IT staff. The cloud management platform not only allows the school’s IT team to co-manage the solutions, providing flexibility and customization, but reduces infrastructure and IT costs. Additionally, the Carolina Advanced Digital team implemented services for ongoing co-management of the solutions to give them visibility and control where desired.

This project was started by Firstfloor, a real estate development firm focused on providing turnkey property development services for educational institutions. Designing energy efficient and engaging environments, Firstfloor gives school districts access to technology and tools that empower the next generation of 21st century workers at low operational costs. “Energy positive facilities generate 60% more energy than they consume, reducing the annual energy costs from $3/ft2 to $0/ft2,” said Glenn Meeks, president at Meeks Professional Services.

Not only does this state-of-the-art smart building generate more energy than it consumes, but it also powers the enhanced capabilities needed to drive sustainability, safety and cost efficiency. The Jones County PK-12 facility’s energy-efficient design includes geothermal well field heat pumps, LED lighting, high-performance glass, a superior building envelope, natural daylight, and more than 100,000 square feet of solar panels. Each of these functions are supported by a network of sensor systems that must be segmented and secured. As such, this necessitated the delivery of advanced, consistent security solutions that would ultimately enable the building to continue functioning at peak performance.

Energy positive facilities require much more consistent connections to the internet for performance data acquisition and other external entities accessing the data. As network demand increases in school environments, alongside the introduction of digital technologies, facilities must adopt Network Access Controls that can effectively manage the network bandwidth. To dynamically segment and secure the IoT devices on the school’s networks, Carolina Advanced Digital implemented a FortiNAC solution by Fortinet. The FortiNAC solution offers a flexible and very customizable platform to handle both the wired and wireless connected devices. “This allows the school to provide appropriate secure access to and from mission-critical facilities and energy-related controls,” said Minella.

Similarly, the system automates segmentation and security for physical access controls and security cameras. The access control allows administrators to regulate who has access to resources on the school’s network, including endpoint devices such as printers, laptops, tablets and Chromebooks.

The energy positive school has created unforgettable learning opportunities for the residents of rural Jones County. The energy systems company worked with teachers to develop lesson plans that incorporate various features of the 123,000-square-foot multi-grade building into STEM-oriented student experiences. An energy data dashboard provides data in real-time on system performance and is made available on large interactive displays for students and teachers.

“The data network design of Jones County PK-12 has positioned it ahead of schools in other counties across North Carolina, enabling it to accommodate new technologies as they develop and utilize them for instructional activities,” continued Meeks. “The solutions provided by Carolina Advanced Digital will allow Jones County PK-12 to function as a cultural center for the Trenton area for many years to come.”

Our team will continue co-managing the network and ensure the Jones County PK-12 IT department is equipped with the tools and resources to handle daily management and monitoring of the network. As the educational technology teachers rely on evolves, Carolina Advanced Digital and Meeks Professional Services will adjust the solutions to support the K12 network and reflect the resilience of the community.