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Texas A&M Health Science Center – Technology Infrastructure Case Study
By: John Jankowski,RCDD,president and founder of JanCom Technologies, Inc. Austin, Texas

The Project
Leading organizations need seamless technology solutions. To integrate required technology efficiently, what goes behind sheetrock and under the ground that is often as critical as the hardware. The Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) recognized how essential integrating a world-class technology infrastructure was to its mission. A community-based medical school providing third and fourth year clinical training at regional campuses around the state through affiliations with local physicians, clinics and hospitals, TAMHSC had extraordinary technology requirements – from supporting essential IT functions, to sophisticated medical equipment and patient simulation systems. With the task of providing the most state-of-the-art, advanced facilities for training tomorrow’s doctors, the architecture, construction and technology infrastructure team faced a unique set of requirements.

The center was designed as the 164,000 square-foot anchor building within a master plan slated to support several future buildings. The TAMHSC Round Rock project was part of a strategic plan to increase the capacity of the institutions training program.

Team and Philosophy
Every successful project starts with a strong design and construction team. Due to the complexities inherent in this project, JanCom Technologies, Inc. was selected by the architect very early in the design process to develop the information technology and audio-visual strategy and physical infrastructure for the project. To kick the project off, the entire team worked together to evaluate the specific requirements and limitations. A series of questions were posed to the Owner to begin establishing the desired functionality for the IT systems and technology infrastructure. As in all projects, there are numerous options and therefore just as many decisions that must be made by both the design team and the Owner. Experience has proven that there is a direct relationship between the cost of decisions and the project timeline. Decisions made early have a very manageable impact on budgets and schedules. Decisions made late in the project can be exponentially more expensive and lead to undesirable and unnecessary compromises. This is especially true with IT systems that are typically thought to be “behind the walls”, but have a significant effect on space planning, electrical and mechanical systems, millwork, and even furniture selections.

There are numerous reasons the infrastructure required to support technology systems must be factored in early on in the design process. Technology equipment rooms, server rooms and audio-visual equipment require adequate space, useable geometry and, in cases where growth is needed beyond the initial space, accommodations must be made for flexible spaces that can grow into adjacent spaces.

This particular design team, from the owner to the general contractor, was proactive in identifying and coordinating all aspects of technology within the project prior to the commencement of construction. Weekly meetings that included the entire team were held throughout the design process to facilitate rapid decision-making and complete coordination of related trades and systems.

The Team:
Texas A&M Health Science Center – Owner and End User
Waterstone Development - Developer
Graeber, Simmons, and Cowan – Architect
HMG & Associates – Consulting Engineers – MEP Design
Waeltz & Prete, Inc. - Civil Engineers
Chasco Construction – General Contractor and Pre-Construction Services


Campus Telecommunications Infrastructure
Regulated telecommunications service entrances and demarcation points were located with a secured space centrally located on the ground-level of the building. This location was identified during early space planning, resulting in the ability to integrate the technology infrastructure into the core of the building. The building entrance provided space for multiple telecommunications service providers, ample incoming conduits for future services, access to the campus’ distribution duct bank system, and dedicated pathways to other technology spaces within the building. The final design of the building, with its technology infrastructure built-in, also provides very simple and inexpensive extension of telecommunications and network services to future buildings.

The long term development and costs of providing continuous services to the facility was critical. Unexpected external factors dictated the placement of telecommunications manholes at the perimeter of the property. Informed by the civil engineers that the fronting road was planned to be re-aligned in the future, the typical placement of the manholes would have been disastrous and required costly reconstruction in the future.

Buried utilities serving the building and future development, such as electrical distribution, chilled water supply and return from the remote central plant, public water supply, sewer and storm water drainage, competed for very limited underground space. Each of these systems require physical access, dedicated manholes, differing depths and drainage slopes, all within a designated corridor. Careful coordination at the initiation of the project enabled the design and construction team to carefully coordinate all systems prior to breaking ground. As one can imagine, lack of early and total collaboration could have easily resulted in significant and costly rework.

Building Spaces and Pathways
IT services for the building, and ultimately the campus, originate within a central server room of approximately 800 square feet to house up to 18 equipment cabinets. The design team worked together to provide space for server and network equipment cabinets, a redundant UPS system, and three 15 ton computer room air conditioners. Two computer room air conditioners were installed initially to provide redundancy at an initial equipment load -- with the space and piping for a third future air conditioner to accommodate long term requirements. The building diesel generator was sized to support critical building loads and the server room. To eliminate space loss due to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) required ramps, the team opted not to specify a raised floor. Instead, air conditioning supply and return air were contained within the ceiling space and network cabling and power distribution was accommodated with an exposed overhead cable tray system.

Due to the variety of installation environments, as well as limited accessibility, network backbone cabling pathways were designed to be conduit, rather than cable tray. Conduit pathways, regardless of the installation environment, allow lower cost general purpose cable constructions rather than costlier plenum rated cables. Also, as needs increase, additional backbone cables can be added into spare conduit without requiring the removal of ceiling tiles, scheduling after hours work, and experiencing the typical disruption of activities throughout the space while this work is performed. Textile-based inner duct was provided within each conduit to further facilitate the addition of future cabling.

Special Audiovisual Systems
Primarily a teaching facility, the TAMHSC project contained small and large group classrooms, meeting rooms and numerous simulation environments for training. As a result, the audio-visual requirements are significant. The design team’s role was to understand the owners’ vision and integrate the supporting infrastructure into the design. Each room required specific elements and the in-depth coordination of several design disciplines. Projectors and flat panel monitors required special mounting brackets and structural supports within the ceilings and walls. Planned early, these items were relatively inexpensive. Had these items not been included in the construction documents, ceiling systems and wall finishes may have required expensive rework when the owner installed equipment upon move in.

The TAMHSC patient simulation center placed unique demands upon the technology infrastructure. Interactive closed circuit video with audio observation, recording and production systems all required dedicated cabling pathways within the walls, head walls, ceilings and floors. The result was seamless integration of intelligent training mannequins directed from a master control room to provide real life medical training scenarios and experiences for the end users.

A theater style lecture hall was planned for 235 participants. Wireless network access, a common solution in this type of environment, would have required numerous access points in order to provide adequate bandwidth to each user. Challenged by only partially accessible space below the theatre style floor system, the design team once again coordinated cabling pathways with the floor slab, crawl space, and furniture systems to provide a high bandwidth wired network connection to each seat.

The locations of cameras, video displays, speakers and control systems are critical to the function of a complex auditorium and simulation centers. Since a successful audio-visual system relies upon several associated systems, such as structural support, power and lighting, each was carefully planned and documented.

With a range of leading-edge clinical simulation, audio-visual and other requirements, the demand level for network bandwidth was expected to be high. The TAMHSC facility is cabled to support 10gigabit/second network traffic at each end-user workstation. State-of-the-art Augmented Category 6 cable was selected and specified to keep up with anticipated usage levels.

Conclusion
Health care relies more and more on technology to provide the services required by society. Health care training facilities must provide real life tools and experiences to the health care practitioners of tomorrow. Technology within the TAMHSC is crucial to completing its teaching and health care mission. The objective of the project was to provide a technology infrastructure that is seamlessly integrated into the building’s design and supports the mission of the facility – and to provide a finished product that allowed the center’s staff to move in to a facility that did not require costly secondary construction to support future IT or audio-visual systems. Planning for the infrastructure required to support technology resulted in a building, and future campus, that is equipped to support technology now, in the future, and to do it within budget.

Ensuring technology not only functions, but does so at an optimal level is a high-stakes game leading organizations like the TAMHSC need to compete with other similar institutions. This demand is not going away. Designers and contractors need to ensure they see the infrastructure supporting their client’s technology as a part of the entire project.

Said Nancy W. Dickey, M.D., president of the Texas A&M Health Science Center and vice chancellor for health affairs for the A&M System, “From vision to reality, this project demonstrates a remarkable energy and an innovative use of collaboration because none of this would be possible without the support of our many partners…”

About the Author
John Jankowski,RCDD, president and founder of JanCom Technologies, Inc. Austin, Texas With over 24 years in the telecommunications and technology design profession, John Jankowski, RCDD, has contributed to the success of numerous projects requiring the design of technology infrastructure, high performance data centers, facility cabling systems, and technology systems implementation within mission critical facilities. His expertise includes design and implementation of building cabling systems, outside plant telecommunications, network architecture, and high performance data center design. For more information on John or JanCom Technologies please visit www.jancom.com

 


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