IT Infrastructure and Systems | Innovators
Lane Community College
Project: Automated lighting system
Project lead: Alen Bahret, programmer/analyst
Lane Community College in Eugene, OR, needed to fix a problem--how to coordinate two different scheduling systems for its sports fields so that planners weren't doing double entry. In developing a homegrown solution, however, the school also created a new source of revenue and an approach to solving other facilities-scheduling challenges on campus.
In November 2008, voters in Eugene approved a bond measure for projects to improve the LCC main campus's athletic facilities, including a new soccer field, new turf in the track and field area, and installation of eight new field light stands. The school contracted with Iowa-based Musco Lighting to provide the lighting systems as well as remote scheduling of automated lighting with a product called Control-Link.
Thanks to the streamlined scheduling of lighting resources, more community groups are able to use LCC's athletic fields and the college earns more revenue.
But the bond-approved lighting system came with additional responsibilities, says Alen Bahret, programmer/analyst at the community college. "We had to manage lighting schedules for our athletic department's events as well as those of community groups and high school teams using the facilities."
LCC was already using an event-scheduling system, 25Live from CollegeNET. With the addition of lighting scheduling, athletic team coaches now had to do double-booking, reserving space through the 25Live application and then scheduling lighting in Musco's system. If an event scheduler forgot to enter information requirements into both systems, Bahret explains, "the group would get to the event and find a dark field." That would require a phone call to a facilities person, who would then go into the lighting scheduling system and turn it on. The lights have a 30-minute warm-up time, so the group would have to wait around until the system powered up.
"I got to thinking that perhaps we could build something so we do the scheduling only once, and it would be a self-managed process," Bahret says. He talked to Musco and CollegeNET executives about how to create an interface between their two systems.
During the summer of 2011, Bahret worked with CollegeNET to integrate all of the college's event lighting requirements into a single database. Then he worked with Musco to create an interface enabling all event lighting times to be scheduled through 25Live.
Musco officials told him that LCC could send a flat file in comma-delimited format. "So we just had to arrange for that data to come out of the 25Live system," he explains. Because it is an on-premise system rather than software as a service, the change didn't require CollegeNET to do any reprogramming. "We just had to go into the Oracle database and pull information from certain fields and ship it to the Musco server once every hour."
The new interface didn't involve extensive setup or any equipment expense, Bahret notes. The challenge, he says, was mostly in developing the concept to make the products from the two vendors work together. "We tested it for six weeks and ran it in parallel with the old business process of double entry before launching it," he says.
The updated system, which went live in October 2011, includes a choice of three lighting resources (soccer field, track infield, and whole track) and three lighting time options (sunset, sunrise, or actual event time).
LCC hasn't tried to estimate cost or energy savings from the interface. But because the scheduling is streamlined, more community groups are able to use the fields and LCC earns more revenue by charging them for their time and share of lighting used. The pricing for the lighting, playing field hours, and scoreboards are all packaged together. "We can accurately share costs with others using the fields and we can define specifically when we want the lights on and off," Bahret says. "It has allowed us to build tight schedules. We charge by the hour and bill accurately, and the lights go out quickly after groups leave the fields." Now coaches can view space and event details and see whether lighting has been scheduled from within 25Live and don't even need to log in to the Musco system.
Inspired by its success with lighting scheduling, LCC is moving to integrate other systems. For instance, it is planning to use 25Live scheduling to link to a space rental pricing and invoicing system. "We are working on doing the same thing linking our heating and cooling system and our class schedules," Bahret says. "We already have created a web service that connects our class schedules to our Symmetry Security Management Software package. A message tells the security system when to lock and unlock each classroom."
David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology.