Workers with Reed Brothers Construction remove sidewalk between Petersburg School District buildings to install conduit for fiber optic cable. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

Petersburg School District is replacing its fiber optic network that provides Internet access to all of its buildings.  The upgrade will help meet the increasing demand by teachers and students to use newer technology. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

The fiber optic network spans about 1,500 feet. The technology department has been working on upgrading the system for four years. They consulted with engineers to design a network that could last for decades to come.

“This will help improve network speeds throughout the district,” said Jon Kludt-Painter, the district’s Technology Director.

Kludt-Painter says they’ve had problems with Internet connections and speeds at the district buildings with increasing demands in recent years. It’s affected everything from students in video conference classes to teachers wanting to stream tutorials. The old fiber optic network was installed about 15 years ago.

“That’s ancient and some of the network fiber that’s been laid is not protected,” he said. “It’s zip tied to heating pipes and that sort of thing.

The Internet cable is not in tubing or conduit. Some parts of the fiber have already broken. Without reliable fiber, the district’s high speed Internet doesn’t work like it should nor do fancy high tech machines like the ones in the high school’s shop.  Some of the machinery there needs Internet and the students’ laptops need Internet to connect to the machines.

“We’ve got the plasma cutter over there that needs reliable Internet, we have a laser engraver, six work stations that have CAD (computer-aided design) software, the C and C machine that’s used to make signs, there’s multiple 3-D printers over there,” Kludt-Painter said. “It will also help support the cameras for security and student safety.”

The funding for the new fiber optic cable is coming from “E-Rate”. The federal program is set up for schools and libraries to improve Internet access. E-Rate also pays for most of the school district’s Internet bills.

The technology department has been slowly installing a conduit network where the new fiber cable will eventually go. That work has been completed almost entirely in house by Caleb Caulum, who is the district’s Technology Assistant.

“Having a skill set like Caleb brings to the table and we’ve been able to leverage that here,” Kludt-Painter said. “[It] has saved the district a tremendous amount of money.”

The Internet conduit that’s being installed is two-inch plastic PVC tubing.

“Essentially think of a big straw where we’re coming in at the server room, all the way to the elementary, through the pool, the district office and the shop,” said Caleb Caulum. “We’ve got that running the whole way for added protection and it makes pulling of the fiber a lot easier as well.”

So, when the fiber needs to be replaced in the future it can be. Caulum says the network of conduit is mostly out of sight.

“Some of it’s underground, some of it’s in the ceiling, some of it’s outside, it depends on what part it is but we’re laying that as needed,” he said.

The underground part–between the district office and the shop–was contracted out to Reed Brothers Construction. They finished the job in two days.

The tubing will remain empty for a while. The district plans to have GCI install the new fiber optic cable this summer.