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Advanced Technology Center at Westmoreland County Community College to boost connectivity, safety

Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, 11:48 p.m.
 

When Westmoreland County Community College students enter the new Latrobe campus and Advanced Technology Center next year, they'll be studying and working in WCCC's most secure and technologically connected buildings.

College trustees last month approved spending more than $2.7 million on a network that will connect lights and thermostats to security cameras, phones and digital signs.

The systems are being built into the new center in downtown Latrobe and are part of the renovations of the former Sony plant in East Huntingdon, where the college's Advanced Technology Center will occupy 73,500 square feet.

“With a new building and the new installation at Sony, it only makes sense to equip it with the latest technology that's available so that when things continue to move as fast as they are ... we're able to adapt as best we can with the current technology,” trustee Gene Ciafre said.

“It's a considerable investment, but we feel it really equips us for the future,” he said.

Officials say the move will not only keep up with technology demands but save money on utilities and make the facilities safer.

Students will notice complete wireless Internet coverage, faster network connections and new digital signs that can display routine information or emergency alerts, said Patrick McKula, director of information technology.

The locations will have high-tech classrooms similar to one the school opened last semester at its main campus near Youngwood. The room features round tables for students with desktop computers and ports to connect laptops. Professors run flat-screen TVs and projection screens from a command center with a touch pad at the front of the room.

“Students and faculty are asking for technology more and more,” McKula said. “We're preparing for that. We want to give them that.”

The integrated system will enable officials to remotely turn off a classroom's lights or adjust the temperature in offices off-site, said Ron Eberhardt, vice president of administrative services.

“Being able to get a better picture remotely, at least first aid of what's going on, we feel we can react to the situation without sending a tech or someone to adjust the temperature,” Eberhardt said.

Security personnel will be able to close and lock doors from a remote location if an intruder enters a building, he said.

“Yes, there's expected cost savings, efficiencies if you will,” Eberhardt said. “But also it provides a more secure and safe environment for students and community people who use our facilities. In today's environment, we take that very seriously.”

The security camera's software will be capable of facial recognition and, if the college gains access to a criminal database, could even send notices to staff on site that someone is on campus who's not supposed to be there, McKula said.

“If we get a good, clean view of someone's face coming in the door, we could take action on that,” McKula said.

Eberhardt said the college plans to incorporate this type of network in other locations in the future, including Founders Hall, the college's next major renovation project.

Ciafre said it made sense to try the technology in new buildings with bare walls and ceilings that don't yet exist.

“It was easier than rehabbing an older building,” he said. “That was part of our reasoning.”

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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