New digital radio system benefits a growing school district

With 8,500 students plus staff to serve throughout Dane County, it’s Kevin Sukow’s job as Director of Facilities and Grounds for the Sun Prairie School District to ensure all building communications are working well now and in the future.

“We have more than 500 radios in our school system,” says Sukow. “Our original analog system had one antenna in the middle of the district and we relied on a single repeater channel for all communication.”

The team at General Communications, a long-time partner of the school district, consulted with Sukow and suggested a Hytera DMR two-way digital radio system with multiple repeater channels. Several antennas were installed throughout the district for clear reception in every school building. Since the DMR was rolled out in February 2019, it has proven to be a much more efficient radio system.

“The benefit for us is a method of real-time communication between staff members in the schools and districtwide,” says Sukow. “Playground and lunchroom aides can talk to each other and administrators, especially if a student needs attention, is misbehaving, or there’s some other issue. This is also critical for our maintenance and grounds teams, allowing them to talk by two-way and hear communications. It helps increase their response time in an emergency.”

When there’s a call for fire, police or ambulance, anyone with a radio can conveniently turn to one channel, push a button and directly communicate with dispatch.

“The system also provides an all-call channel,” adds Sukow. “For a tornado warning, lockdown or weather emergency, we can talk with anyone who has a radio. It’s another avenue for real-time communications to improve safety and security.”

General Communications also guided the Sun Prairie School District on the installation of a bi-directional amplifier (BDA) at two elementary schools and the high school.

“We didn’t realize this, but Low-E (low-emissivity) glass usage and energy conservative components used in construction today can restrict signals from getting into our building. This (BDA) is an improvement for fire and police partners on their radio systems when they are in our facilities. General Communications’ team conducted a thorough walk-through and testing to make sure there are no dead spots.”

Ron Sampson, who works with the Sun Prairie School District as General Communications’ account representative, adds, “Enhancing frequencies for public safety is incredibly important, especially in urban areas. If public safety cannot be accessed in a building, then there’s no occupancy.”

If the Sun Prairie School District decides to hook up their system somewhere else in the district, Sukow says that General Communications’ extensive experience in two-way radio systems in the Dane County area is a key benefit. General Communications was good about troubleshooting and making changes in the process following the install, he adds, to secure a well-operated system.

“General Communications’ Hytera radio system also fit our budget. We didn’t have to skimp on what we wanted in order to afford what we needed.

“I’m not an expert in the digital radio field, so having General Communications help us make the best decisions for the taxpayers in our district is a good thing.”