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The Buzz: Installation Profile: H&R Block headquarters, Kansas City, Mo.

Meeting Functionality

The Buzz: Installation Profile: H&R Block headquarters, Kansas City, Mo.

Apr 1, 2007 12:00 PM,
By Jessaca Gutierrez

Meeting Functionality

In the boardroom in H&R Block’s new headquarters, a custom-made conference table houses 14 recessed Dell UltraSharp LCD flatpanel monitors. The monitors can rise out of the table for use when needed. Boardroom photo by Robert Hodnett of Hodnett Photographics.

H&R Block is a household name for tax services. With more than 12,500 locations, it’s the leading provider for tax, financial, mortgage, accounting, and business consulting. In October 2006, the company opened its new world headquarters in downtown Kansas City, Mo., bringing together 1,600 associates from six offices in the metropolitan area. With an expansive 525,000-square-foot area, the company needed a strong AV backbone for the 160 conference rooms throughout the 17-story building.

As the largest tax services company, H&R Block could have built a world headquarters to make other companies green with AV envy, with the latest and greatest stuffed in every nook and cranny. Instead, when H&R Block and Chicago-based Baker Robbins & Company designed the audiovisual outfit three years ago, H&R Block had a humble mission: focus on the functionality, not the technology.

“We sat down and refined the function and how much of that function we needed,” says John Woods, project manager from Hines, the Chicago-based real estate developer for the H&R Block headquarters. “It would be cool to have a videoconference room in every room, but that’s not how things work. You have to meet the organizational requirement as well.”

H&R Block wanted to consolidate its metro offices to increase productivity and offer a broader spectrum of technology, while meeting the company’s growing needs.

“While tax prep is a big part of the business, it grows significantly every year at October,” Woods says. “We needed a base environment that could absorb that ebb and flow of staff changes.”

After sitting down and defining what each department needed in a meeting space, designers saw a varying degree of AV needs. To accommodate the range of AV needs and the seasonal growth, the company decided that some rooms would be strictly meeting spaces with little or no AV, while others would offer display, sound, and voice equipment.

“The AV systems were spread out throughout the building, so there’s not a consistent level on each floor. There are pockets of rooms that have dense technology and others that just have a TV,” says Ryan Kasey, project manager for Kansas City-based JE Dunn Construction, the company selected to install the AV component of the building design.

H&R Block adopted an efficient scheduling system to allow it to schedule rooms throughout the headquarters so it wouldn’t have to install extensive AV equipment in every meeting space. The 18th-floor conference rooms and the training center offer the highest AV functionality. In the training center, some conference rooms accommodate groups of 60, while other rooms accommodate groups of 70. Both types can accommodate larger groups when not divided by collapsible walls. Some rooms are equipped with an Epson PowerLite 835p XGA projector, a Draper Access MultiView series dropdown screen, and a ClearOne XAP 800 mixer and XAP TH2 teleconferencing interface. Others are equipped with a 65in. Panasonic TH-65PHD8UK plasma screen, a Polycom VSX 8000 videoconference unit, and Shure wired and wireless mics.

At the highest functional level is the boardroom. A circular conference table features custom millwork that allows 14 recessed Dell UltraSharp LCD flatpanel monitors to rise out of the table. Users can activate only certain panels, so, for example, the presenter can be the only one with a screen. When the monitors are not in use, they can be recessed into the table to create one big, flat work surface.

Also installed in the boardroom is an Extron CrossPoint 300 RGBHV matrix switcher, a Polycom VSX 8000 videoconference unit, a Sony EVI-D70 PTZ camera, an RGB Spectrum DualView XL display processor, an Extron DA4 RGBHV wideband video distribution amplifier, a JVC DR-M100S DVD recorder/player, an Extron VSC 500 scan converter, Crown CH1 amplifiers, JBL Control 26CT loudspeakers, and a ClearOne XAP 800/XAP TH2 teleconferencing system.

Because employees from multiple departments would be accessing and using the equipment in the conference rooms, H&R Block wanted the AV equipment to be easy to use and control with minimal training. JE Dunn installed AMX NetLinx NI-3000 touchpanels that docked into the walls of the meeting spaces. Serving as a universal interface for the AV gear, the touchpanels cut down on training time because the company wouldn’t need to train its employees on multiple systems.

AMX NetLinx NI-3000 touchpanels serve as a universal interface for controlling the varying levels of AV functionality spread throughout the 17-story headquarters. Touchpanel photo by Blane Sutton.

Although the system would provide an easy-to-use, one-stop solution when completed, setting up the touchpanels was a significant challenge for JE Dunn Construction.

“The main challenge with this was that the programming and setup had to take place at the very end of the project, immediately before the owner moved in,” Kasey says. “It required a review of the program by the designer as well as the owner, owner representative, and several of the end users who work for H&R Block, as well as a lot of contractor setup and program time.”

Working from a basic framework that the designer provided for the touchpanels, the AV contractor had to create a custom-built program that would meet the designer-specified needs while still providing an easy-to-use system that didn’t require a full-time IT person to set up.

To get the touchpanels working to fit H&R Block’s needs and finished in time for the company to move in, the team at JE Dunn worked many evenings and weekends in the last three weeks of the project.

Despite small changes to the system at H&R Block’s request, the touchpanels stuck closely to the original design while staying true to the company’s intent. The AMX touchpanels now control everything in the conference rooms, from the AV equipment to the window blinds.

In the end, Kasey says planning the installation schedule accurately goes a long way toward ensuring a smooth installation.

“The project manager really needs to make sure to detail the schedule. Allow ample setup time for the control system, for example, so it doesn’t catch anyone off guard,” Kasey says.

After three years of design and build, H&R Block is finally at home in its new office — without compromising its original mission.

“We’re not a technology guinea pig,” Woods says. “We want to be on the leading edge but not the bleeding edge.”


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