Kilgore ISD will be updating its district-wide radio communication technology as part of a broader effort to enhance security at its campuses.
At a board meeting Monday, Nov. 18, trustees and district staff discussed the planned upgrade. Superintendent Dr. Andy Baker said the plan has been in the works for a long time.
“This is something I know we’ve talked about, both formally and informally in turn, but one of our district goals we’re trying to accomplish this year has fallen off into the realm of security, about making an upgrade in our current radio communications. We did go through a formal process to solicit some proposals from area companies for this,” Baker said before asking KISD Director of Technology Mark Lane to discuss the proposals with the board.
“The Safety and Security Committee has met over the last year and has really identified this as one of the key areas that we can improve on,” Lane said, citing Kilgore High School as the campus experiencing the most radio communication issues. The unique construction of buildings at the KHS campus, originally built in 1932, create “dead spots”, making radio communication difficult or impossible in some places.
“There were definitely some problems there,” Lane said.
He also cited complaints from KISD Transportation Department which concerned a lack of radio coverage on school bus routes in outlying areas where cell phone coverage is also unreliable.
A primary goal of upgrading district communications systems is to ensure reliable communications between campuses in the event of an emergency.
“As we started really talking about some of the safety and security issues, one of the items that kept coming up was the interoperability between campus radio systems. So, in other words, if the middle school and the high school got together, their radios were not talking directly to each other. If we had an event or something like that where that was an issue, we wanted that capability so that we could respond to an emergency or event or something like that,” Lane said.
Reliable radio communications between campuses is also “handy”, Lane added, even outside of emergency situations.
This spring, KISD began talking with radio engineers and continued those discussions into the fall semester. These discussions led to the creation of a multi-stage plan for improving district radio communications, beginning with the most significant problem areas at KHS.
In a formal request, RFCP-19-01, the district asked local vendors for a proposal encompassing new radio equipment for KHS, school bus and transportation department radios and a select group of radios for each campus to ensure effective communications with new radio systems on school buses.
The new systems would include a switch from the district’s use of analog VHF (Very High Frequency) to digital UHF (Ultra High Frequency). The analog frequencies can become very crowded and are “not great for bouncing around the walls of a building like Kilgore High School,” Lane said. The switch to digital frequencies was recommended by every source KISD consulted.
The district invited eight vendors to submit proposals, talked with four of those and finally settled on two proposals presented to trustees at the Nov. 18 meeting.
The preferred proposal came from Crosspoint Communications, a company specializing in Motorola radio communications equipment with locations in Texas, Arizona and Colorado.
Crosspoint Communications “gave us the best value (and) met our needs the most specifically,” Lane said.
The company’s proposal called for the installation of a radio repeater on a tower at KHS to boost two-way radio communication signals. Their proposal’s cost came to $84,000. Lane said the district had the option to choose radio equipment with fewer features to lower the total cost.
“That would get us a long way towards moving forward and give us a plan to keep going in the district for our radio communications,” Lane said of the proposal.
Trustee Dereck Borders recommended against choosing radio equipment with fewer features, such as digital display screens, if the long-term benefit of the features would outweigh a higher upfront cost.
“You can’t go back to it if you don’t get it now without buying another radio. The best bet is to buy the more expensive radio and go ahead and have that capability. Then, if you don’t ever need it, well, you don’t ever need it and you didn’t save pennies. But if you need it, you have that capability,” Borders said. He also said the district could expect much better radio communications with the switch from analog to digital frequencies and that Motorola radios, like the ones provided by Crosspoint Communications, were high quality.
Lane said he had consulted with Bullard ISD and Hallsville ISD for recommendations on the project.
KISD has previously worked with Crosspoint Communications over the past 20 years.
Over that time, KISD has had some billing issues with the company but Lane said those issues were now under control.
Setting up the new radio equipment would be fairly quick, he added, but the installation of the radio repeater could take six to eight weeks. A repeater at KHS would provide effective radio coverage in an approximately 16-mile radius in the district.
An additional repeater could be added on the south side of town in the future to create redundant paths in case one repeater fails. It would also slightly boost the district’s coverage radius.
Baker said the district’s radio improvement could be broken into two phases: Phase 1 and Phase 2.
Phase 1 would incur a cost of $84,935.72 for the purchase of new radio equipment, including a repeater at KHS. Phase 2 would cover the purchase of an additional 48 UHF radios and the additional repeater at a cost of $46,200 for a total cost of $131,135.
Baker told trustees a School Safety and Security grant from Texas Education Agency has already been earmarked for KISD and could put an additional $66,000 towards the communications improvement project. He asked trustees to approve the plan to purchase equipment for both Phase 1 and Phase 2 from Crosspoint Communications, as well as approving a budget amendment to allocate money from the district’s general fund for a total of $132,000 to cover the cost. The additional funds would then be replaced with the $66,000 grant when it arrives in spring 2020.
Trustee Trey Hattaway moved for the board to approve the proposal and Borders seconded the motion. It was approved unanimously. Borders moved to approve Budget Amendment #3 in the amount of $132,000 to cover the cost of the new radio equipment and Hattaway seconded. It was also approved unanimously.