UC Merced Uses Flexible Control for New Campus

As the 10th campus in the University of California (UC) school system, UC Merced is the first new UC campus in 40 years. UC Merced is also the first major American research university to be built this century. Its evolution began in 1988 when it was approved
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UC Merced Uses Flexible Control for New Campus

Dec 3, 2008 12:00 PM, By Linda Seid Frembes

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As the 10th campus in the University of California (UC) school system, UC Merced is the first new UC campus in 40 years. UC Merced is also the first major American research university to be built this century. Its evolution began in 1988 when it was approved by the California Legislature to serve the booming demographic of the San Joaquin Valley. Today, the student-centered research university provides higher-education opportunities to approximately 2,700 students in the schools of engineering; natural sciences; and social sciences, humanities, and arts.

Prior to the centralized campus, UC Merced had invested in videoconferencing technology to offer distance-learning classes at several sites. “We started with distributed centers with videoconferencing and now have several buildings on campus with that capability deeply integrated into the AV,” says Christopher Volkerts, manager of information and technology service planning for UC Merced, who has been with the school for the past 10 years.

UC Merced had worked with an AV contractor to set up their original videoconferencing facilities, but later learned they had gone out of business. Luckily, the school was able to work with national systems integration firm AVI-SPL via its partnership with Pacific Bell/AT&T. Barbara Stuller, account executive at AVI-SPL, worked with Northern California General Manager Eric Neuman to refine the engineering and design of the classroom AV systems.

“Once on campus, the biggest challenge was that the buildings weren’t ready when the students began to arrive [in September 2005]. For the first 18-24 months, every classroom went through a transitional phase. In fact, this is the first school year that everything is in place,” Volkerts says.

The campus includes 35 classrooms, six computer labs, and eight lecture halls. Another one-third of rooms were used for temporary classroom spaces as construction progressed during the first few years. In its permanent setup, every instructional space is technologically enhanced with a Sharp projector, a Draper projection screen, and a Sharp 45in. LCD. According to Volkerts, the plan was to record every class, but not every teacher is doing that right now.

“From a design standpoint, it was critical that all staff have same experience with the equipment in every room—therefore, the equipment in the same place in every classroom,” Volkerts says. “Early on, remote faculty would come and use the rooms and give us feedback on what they liked. The faculty wanted flexibility but we just wanted it to be idiot-proof.”

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UC Merced Uses Flexible Control for New Campus

Dec 3, 2008 12:00 PM, By Linda Seid Frembes

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UC Merced chose an AMX control system to offer faculty the flexibility they wanted, but still have basic functions available at the touch of a button. Volkerts notes that the school had AMX control system in its previous facilities and that the product line was well-liked. “It was not a difficult choice,” he says.

The AMX touchpanel gives faculty a basic landing screen with more complex AV menus underneath. In larger rooms, the system controls multiple screens with multiple sources. In most instances, the teaching staff uses document cameras regularly, whereas some faculty will bring in their own laptops. The AMX touchpanel also controls the classroom’s Lutron lighting, sound system, and microphones. Various presets were also programmed in for staff members that prefer less involvement with the equipment.

“The goal was to have a modular in design with a base level of AV functions with added layers of complexity,” Neuman says. “We worked with the university based on their experiences, and can modify the AMX panel for each type of room. The benefit is that it is easy to change the user interface. AMX is a modular hardware system so it is also easy to add and subtract parts. It merges well with infrastructure.”

Currently, AMX controls all the local room functions but the school has future plans to implement the system for asset management, as well as permanent installations of 10in. in-wall touchpanels. The system is not used for automated maintenance; instead, nightly sweeps are conducted by some of the 22 student technicians that assist the three professional staff members for IT help desk and classroom support.

UC Merced is also one of the greenest schools in the UC system, with all buildings on campus rated LEED silver or higher.

As the campus grows, AVI-SPL built in some future-proofing to its AV design, such as the use of 16:9 projection screens even though most projectors in use right now are 4:3. Conduit was laid throughout the school buildings for future videoconferencing, and some fiber-optic cable was put in to ensure plenty of future bandwidth.

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