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Feature

Paul Solnitzky holding a clock

Carpenter Paul Solnitzky helped finish installing the new GPS-guided clocks this week. Others on the project included Saben Desmet and Jim Jeanetta, who worked nights to avoid disrupting classes.

Improving on time

A new GPS clock system is saving the U time and money

By Gayla Marty

Brief, Oct. 31, 2007

In the wee hours of next Sunday morning, Nov. 4, daylight saving time will end and clocks across the country will "fall back" an hour.

If you could peek in the window of a shadowy classroom on the Twin Cities campus that night, you might see the hands of the wall clock spin backwards, from 2 o'clock to 1 o'clock, set by the ghostly hand of a new remote system that will save the U an estimated $18,000 per year.

The Primex Wireless Clock System, installed on campus during the past few months, receives time signals from global positioning satellites (GPS) 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A GPS receiver is always collecting and sending information to the transmitter, which in turn sends the correct time to the system clocks.

"A campuswide, synchronized clock system is especially helpful for students traveling between east and west banks or between Minneapolis and St. Paul during the 15 minutes between classes," says Jeremy Todd from the Office of Classroom Management. "It means faculty and students have consistent time."

Todd's office started doing the homework on clock systems last winter. Not only did daylight saving time raise problems twice a year, but clocks also fell out of sync due to batteries wearing out, power outages, and other maintenance problems. All of that caused classroom disruptions, complaints to Facilities Management, many single trips to make hurried fixes, and lost time for everyone.

New technology now allows cell phones and personal computers to keep the right time based on satellite signals. Similar GPS technology is being adopted by companies, hospitals, governments, manufacturers, and schools for all kinds of buildings around the world--including at least two other Big Ten universities. With hundreds of classrooms and offices, the U's Twin Cities campus was a great candidate.

"Once we did the analysis, it was an easy decision to fund the infrastructure," says Sean Schuller from Facilities Management. Based on that analysis, the decision to adopt the new technology was made in July. The Office of Classroom Management and Facilities Management entered into a jointly funded partnership to implement it.

The infrastructure for the first phase of the project includes two towers on the tops of the tallest buildings on campus--one in St. Paul and another in Minneapolis--and new clocks in 300 general-purpose classrooms, from Kaufert Laboratory to the Carlson School of Management. The towers are now in place and the last clocks are being installed. Those clocks already installed are live on the GPS system.

The new system means not only fewer problems for students, faculty, and classroom management. It also means that Facilities Management can reallocate staff time for better things than manually adjusting hundreds of clocks--most of which require a ladder--twice a year, plus a dramatic drop in emergency errands for things like repairing a clock in a classroom with an exam about to begin. Schuller says that Facilities Management expects to recoup its investment in a little more than two years through labor savings and reduced maintenance expenses.

If all goes well with the 300 classrooms in phase one, the remaining 850 clocks in other classrooms and locations maintained by Facilities Management will be assessed for possible replacement, too, to take advantage of the new system.

It's about time!

FURTHER READING

"Light on the subject"