School system exercises options for cable routing and connectivity

Nov. 1, 2001
While raceway systems were a must, connecting-hardware choices were up for discussion

While raceway systems were a must, connecting-hardware choices were up for discussion.

Sometimes, a cabling-installation contractor views a project as a blank canvas, one on which the contractor can exhibit an artist's touch within what is a decidedly scientific and technical endeavor. More frequently, however, cabling-installation projects require that contractors display their skills in areas such as coordination, installation skill, and the ability to complete work by a specified deadline.

The latter certainly was the case for Jim Willis and his crews at Connectivity Solutions of Wisconsin ( when they cabled five public school buildings in South Milwaukee. The school system's need to install its first network-cabling system, the buildings' construction type, and the fact that school was in session during the installation meant that this project was first and foremost a practical effort, and any artistic flair would have to be considered secondary.

Aesthetically pleasing display

"Most of the walls in the buildings were constructed of block, so we couldn't fish them," says Willis. "Raceway was really the only choice for cable routing." Willis believes that despite the apparent lack of options, the raceway products put in place are aesthetically pleasing. "We could have picked any of a few brands," he says. "The raceway we picked is nice-looking and works well in the environment."

That raceway is manufactured by Panduit (, and includes the company's T-70 and Twin-70 brands in particular.

The Giga-Punch 110 system achieves performance specified in the current Category 6 draft standard, using discrete wire or patch cords.
Click here to enlarge image

"Raceway was used in the classrooms as the primary method of cable routing," says Peter Martin, a data-communications sales specialist with Panduit who serves the Milwaukee area. "It offers aesthetics as well as the bend-radius control that is needed in a Category 5e system." The raceway's fittings achieve a 1-inch minimum bend radius.

Willis says the choice was logical for several reasons, in addition to its looks. "The customer had specified Panduit jacks, so it made sense to use the matching raceway. I have done some work with the product before, and have found it easy to work with. The pieces fit together well-like a puzzle that just snaps together." The T-70 and Twin-70 product lines, which were used on the project, are part of Panduit's non-metallic raceway offering.

"It is light and sturdy, so we could cut it with a regular miter saw rather than having to use specialized cutters. And the predrilled holes eliminated drilling and knockouts. So, the raceway was really easy to use."

Tight schedules

Ease-of-use was a consideration because of the project's scheduling constraints. The project began in November 2000 and had to be completed by the end of February of this year. "There was a time crunch, in the fact that everything was going on during the school year," Willis says. "Time frames were short, and perhaps the biggest obstacle was making sure everything worked in buildings of that age. One of the buildings was built in 1900."

Panduit's raceway product carries both data and electrical cables to users in the South Milwaukee school district.
Click here to enlarge image

To finish the work on time, Connectivity Solutions had five crews on the project-one in each school every workday. In the smaller elementary schools, the company dispatched two data-communications and two electrical installers. The middle schools required four data-communications and four electrical installers apiece, and a crew of six data-communications and six electrical installers serviced the high school. On this project, Connectivity Solutions was the primary contractor and subcontracted work to the electrical contractor (see sidebar, "Leveraging electrical expertise," page 20).

"The electrical work that had to get done was another factor in the choice of raceway systems," Willis recalls. "We obviously needed a product that could accommodate both data-comm and electrical cable in the same raceway." A divider wall in the product made it possible to do exactly that. The addition of separate covers on the Twin-70 model help maintain separation of the communications and electrical channels, and let you handle cables in one channel without having to handle the cables in the other.

Connectivity choices

As is the case in many voice-and-data installations, the user opted to use patch panels for data connections and a 110 system for voice connections in the telecommunications rooms. Of the 110 systems, Willis says, "I like them. They are compact and easier to terminate than the earlier-generation 66 blocks. You can label them better, identification is easier, and their transmission characteristics are better than the 66 block as well. Across the board, I find the 110 system to be a nicer product than the 66 block, which some people use for voice connections."

Willis says that while it is a popular choice for voice systems, not many of his customers use 110s for data. "Years ago, some customers would use the 110s for data, but they don't do that much anymore. The user-friendliness of patch panels has made them the choice nearly everywhere." Just as Willis finds the 110 system a better choice than the 66 block for reasons including labeling and identification, the 110 system bows to patch panels for those and other ease-of-use reasons.

Yet for those who do use 110 systems for data connections, many herald the technology as superior to patch panels in terms of performance. Several manufacturers of the hardware, including Panduit, have developed product lines that meet the current draft specifications for Category 6 performance. Panduit says its Giga-Punch system delivers Category 6 performance with discrete wire or patch cords.

In the case of the South Milwaukee schools, the cabling systems installed were Category 5e-rated. As more and more users adopt Category 6 systems, however, they may give more thought to using 110 systems rather than patch panels for data circuits. For one thing, 110 systems let the user avoid the uncertainties currently experienced with 8-position modular plug and jack interfaces that meet the proposed Category 6 specifications. The Telecommunications Industry Association has stated that when a Category 6 standard is published, it will allow for full interoperability between plugs and jacks of different manufacturers. With that standard not yet finalized, Category 6 users are best served by choosing all connecting hardware from a single vendor.

Leveraging electrical expertise

When the South Milwaukee schools project began, the Wisconsin operation of Connectivity Solutions was a provider of infrastructure for voice, data, audio, video, and closed-circuit television systems. By the time the project wrapped up in February, the company was well on its way to providing electrical-system installation services as well.

How is such a feat possible, considering the amount of time and training it takes to acquire the knowledge, skills, and licensing required to install electrical systems? The term "acquire" is appropriate, because that's exactly what the company did-earlier this year, it acquired Simons Electric, the electrical contractor that worked on the South Milwaukee schools project. "Through the course of the project, I discovered that the person who owned the company was considering retirement," says Connectivity Solutions' Jim Willis. "Talks commenced during the course of the project."

The former Simons Electric is now called Commercial Electrical Solutions of Wisconsin, and Willis says that having the electrical capability puts his company in a position of strength. "Owning an electrical contractor makes us a diverse company," he says. "On many of the larger data-communications upgrade jobs we carry out, the end-users are adding a lot of electrical circuits as well. The ability to offer the customer both puts us in a good position."

Cabling Installation & Maintenance Editorial Mission

Designers, installers and owners of premises and campus communication systems are challenged by changing standards, products and technologies. Keeping pace with these changes requires access to current information from experts in voice, data and video infrastructure solutions. Cabling Installation & Maintenance provides analysis and interpretation of standards and technologies, presentation of design and installation techniques, and selection and use of cable and components for premises and campus communication systems.

Patrick McLaughlinis chief editor of Cabling Installation & Maintenance.

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