Four Keys to Putting Tomorrow’s Technology in Yesterday’s Buildings

With proper leadership, network planning, flexibility and old-fashioned know-how, existing buildings can be equipped with computer technology.

Educators and architects discussing technology applications in schools consistently raise the following four points:

  1. Technology leadership must exist at the administrative level.
  2. Network planning should be done before installation of the network.
  3. The system must be flexible.
  4. Old buildings are a special challenge because of what they have (chalkboards and existing lighting) and what they lack (sufficient power).

When retrofitting existing school buildings with technology systems, network planning is essential, flexibility is a challenge and the system may require space and an electric power supply not readily available within the building.

Steve Cashman, principal of the Cashman Stahler Group, an educational facility planning and architecture firm in Lombard, IL, says a school district should have a technology ombudsman, probably at the assistant superintendent level, as the champion for technology. “Everyone has good intentions when it comes to computers in schools but, without a strong technology advocate, a lot of money can be spent with little to show for it,” he says.

Successfully “plugged-in” schools have a leader – someone like Ron Pare, director of information systems at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, NJ. Pare is his district’s resource person for both instructional and noninstructional uses of computers. He managed the design and implementation of a 350-node computer network, developed an electronic bulletin board system for his school and selected all hardware and software relating to technological applications.

In 1987, Hunterdon Central was a deteriorating, sprawling complex of leaking buildings with no technology. In 1995, following an $18.9 million building expansion and renovation plan, which included four prototype science and technology classrooms, an instructional media center, a state-of-the-art communications building and the installation of a telecommunications fiber optic backbone to which all areas are connected, Hunterdon Central was recognized by McGraw-Hill and Business Week magazine as one of two high schools in the nation using instructional technology in an innovative manner.