Out With the Old

Cincinnati public school system overhauls entire district

In Cincinnati, when you say “school’s out,” it has a whole different meaning. That’s because all 65 schools in the Cincinnati Public School District—encompassing preschool through grade 12—are part of a massive, $1 billion facilities master plan that will completely change the face of the city’s educational infrastructure. The plan, initiated in 2002, calls for many of the buildings to be extensively renovated—all the way down to the plumbing and electrical work—along with a number of new schools that will be constructed from the ground up. Similar efforts are being enacted in all of Ohio’s 613 school districts.

When this ambitious undertaking is finished, 51 of the schools in the Cincinnati public school system will either be heavily refurbished or newly constructed. The new schools will provide safe and secure physical facilities for the more than 32,000 students who make up the system. The old schools, indeed, are out; the new schools are most certainly in.

A Smooth Start
A critical aspect of this effort is the installation of new, state-of-the-art fire protection systems.

“Because the state of Ohio was going to cofund this project, we had to be sure that we secured bids from at least three different fire system manufacturers,” said Michael Burson, facilities director for the Cincinnati Public School District. “We assumed that our previous manufacturer would get at least some of the business, but we were determined to carefully review competitive systems based on a number of criteria, including performance, ease of use and maintenance, and price.”

As the school venture gained momentum, Burson and Bill Moerhing, his assistant, along with Jeff Hetzer, an electrician who is responsible for maintenance and operation of the various systems, selected five manufacturers that would be listed in the specifications for each job, which was either a single school or a group of schools.

The Bidding Wars
The project was going relatively smoothly until two years ago, when it was announced that five additional schools would be constructed. A subsequent request for bids was sent out for the procurement and installation of the schools’ fire-protection systems. Eric Ruffin, a co-owner of Abel Building Systems, a local provider of security and fire safety solutions, decided to participate in the bidding process.

Ruffin was no stranger to the project. His company holds the maintenance and monitoring contract for the existing fire equipment in all of Cincinnati’s public schools, a number that currently stands at 65.

Ruffin had recently been introduced to Silent Knight, part of the Honeywell Life Safety group and a provider of compatible fire alarm solutions for small and mid-size institutions, as well as commercial sites. He had installed some of Silent Knight’s peripheral devices, such as power boosters, but had never worked with the main panels—the heart of all Silent Knight systems.

“Our company has worked with a variety of fire protection equipment over the seven years we’ve been in business,” said Ruffin, who performs the system installation functions for Abel Building Systems, along with customer training. “But we really didn’t have a system of our own that we could provide to the Cincinnati schools. We looked at a number of different products but ultimately chose Silent Knight for several reasons.

“To begin with, it is a high-quality product, no question. It also is user friendly and simpler to install than many other systems. But more importantly, Silent Knight systems are non-proprietary, meaning that they can be serviced by virtually any company. We didn’t want the client to feel like they were being held hostage, to have to stick with us because we’re the only company that carries that proprietary software. We know we’ll provide a superior level of service for this project, but if for some reason the client wanted to make a change, they would have no trouble doing it. I feel like that’s just a smart way to do business.”

Ruffin also discovered that the systems were effective options for use in larger buildings and high-rises, not just smaller facilities. In addition, the ability to integrate audio into the system was a major plus.

Armed with information about this new-found offering, Ruffin approached the architects and engineers responsible for developing the specifications for the five soon-to-be-built schools. He demonstrated the features and application benefits, conducting engineering visits, training them on the product and even providing a cost analysis to highlight the system’s value.

In the end, the Silent Knight system was accepted as one of the systems that would be considered, not only for the five-school enterprise, but for future projects, as well. The system’s impressive credentials and the fact that the system had the lowest lifecycle cost swung the decision in Abel’s favor. Plus, with Burson’s and Hetzer’s familiarity with Ruffin’s previous work within the school system, the company was awarded the work for the five schools, which incorporated not only the installation of all fire protection equipment but the wiring and electrical work to boot.

A History of Dependability
The first of the schools to be tackled was the Frederick Douglass school, which was ready for students in 2007; all five are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. The system that Abel installed in Douglass uses Silent Knight’s Farenhyt IFP-1000 panel with a 5495 addressable power supply as its centerpiece. The Farenhyt IFP-1000 is an intelligent analog/ addressable fire alarm control panel that is ideal for mid- to large-sized jobs such as schools and universities and offers more than 1,000 addressable points. It features one built-in signaling line circuit (SLC) that supports the addition of up to seven 5815XL SLCs. The panel’s analog addressable technology enhances reliability, pinpoints problem areas and reduces false alarms. Plus, it supports up to 792 System Sensor IDP detectors and 792 IDP modules, or 1016 Hochiki devices.

Complementing the IFP-1000 panel are dual-action pull stations, addressable smoke detectors, heat detectors, subdetectors with remote test stations and numerous horn strobes. Sprinkler systems will be featured in all of the new schools, eliminating the need for area detection. This is the same configuration that will be installed in the four other schools during the construction process. Ruffin made certain that the installation complied with all city and state codes, as well as NFPA 72, the national code that covers the application, installation, location, performance, inspection, testing and maintenance of fire alarm systems and related apparatus.

Ruffin’s confidence in the performance of the school’s Farenhyt systems is based, in part, on the performance of Farenhyt systems already in place.

“Before we began Douglass school, we had already placed a number of Farenhyt systems all around town, probably about 20 or 30 of them,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that the systems would function exactly as I expected. From what I’ve seen in these early projects, I have no reason to think they won’t.”

The fact that the Silent Knight product was chosen for these new schools does not surprise Ruffin, given the school system’s focus on quality, along with its refusal to cut corners.

“We’ve provided a ton of technical support to the Cincinnati schools, and during that time, we’ve seen them add a number of enhancements like pull station covers, wire guards over the horn strobes, things like that,” he said. “They are always looking for ways to improve the quality and safety of their fire protection systems. For them, it’s about doing things all the way or not at all.”

Planning for the Future
The school district will continue to put out competitive bids for each job, per the state’s requirements.

“We have every system manufacturer under the sun asking us to include them in our specs,” Burson said. “This is happening at a time when we’re starting to design the last 22 schools in this project. The list of companies that are vying for an opportunity to be involved is, frankly, pretty daunting.”

Still, Ruffin remains optimistic that the systems he provided will figure prominently into the school system’s plans.

“I do frequent ‘lunch and learn’ sessions with architects and engineers, during which I showcase these products,” he said. “They are blown away with the capabilities. The more people that see these systems, the more people are going to want them.”

School may be out in Cincinnati, but the new and improved schools, not to mention the already installed systems, are unquestionably in.


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