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e-Polk and Polk County Middle School: A marriage of technologies

December 5, 2005 – the Tryon Daily Bulletin –

Consider the new Polk County Middle School. The technology at the middle school is so new that the vendors had to be educated about the equipment, said Dave Scherping, director of technology for the Polk County School System.

“When we put bids out we had a problem because nobody in the area had done the level of video, audio and data integration that we wanted to do,” he said.

The school district even waited as long as possible to seek bids so that the latest technology could be acquired, according to Polk County Schools Superintendent Bill Miller.

The result is a state-of-the-art middle school, with technological resources that excite teachers and students alike. But many of those resources are dependent on affordable high speed Internet access, and until recently the cost of that access had been almost prohibitively expensive.

As recently as early 2004, the school system had been leasing high-speed telephone lines, known as T-1 lines, to connect the schools to the central office, and the central office to the Internet. But the lines were expensive, and Scherping knew he would soon need more speed than the T-1 lines could provide.

Fortunately, Scherping had been a member of the advisory committee of e-Polk, the local grass roots organization that had won a grant to develop a fiber optic cable network right through the middle of the county. The fiber optic project, called PANGAEA (pan-gee’-ah), would widen local access “roads” to the information highway, allowing far more traffic at much higher speeds.

It promised to be just the solution the school system needed, and Scherping, now on the board of directors of the nonprofit corporation, arranged for the school system to become one of the first customers.

“We essentially quadrupled our Internet capacity, and at less than half the cost of what multiple T-1 lines would have required,” said Scherping. “What’s more, we’re only utilizing a fraction of the fiber optic strands that are bundled in the PANGAEA network.”

Scherping and other volunteer PANGAEA board members are convinced that high speed Internet access will be a major drawing card in Polk County’s ongoing economic development effort to recruit new, low-impact enterprises.

“I live and work in this community,” said Scherping, “and it gives me real satisfaction to participate in such a win-win partnership. PANGAEA’s unique nonprofit status is one of the reasons the school system is able to afford the tremendous level of connectivity we’re enjoying. By becoming one of PAN-GAEA’s first customers, we’re contributing to a movement that will have a direct or indirect benefit for everyone in the county in the years ahead.”

On Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m., e-Polk is sponsoring a public meeting to bring the community up to date on advances in connectivity at the middle school, and to give people an opportunity to meet some of the Internet service providers, hosting services and other computer-related businesses that have arisen over the past few years.

The keynote speaker for the event is Hunter Goosmann, director of network operations for the education and research consortium of the Western Carolinas. Goosmann, who leads ERC’s Broadband project in supporting and expanding the existing fiber optic network in the region, will address the interdependence of regional networks and their ability to enhance one another.

Other speakers will include Jim Edwards, planning director for the Isothermal Planning & Development Commission, Keven McCammon, project manager for Advantage West, Dave Scherping, technology and accountability director for Polk County Schools, and Stu Davidson, technical account manager of e-Polk.

The meeting will be held at the newly completed Polk Middle School, which is located on Wolverine Trail just off Hwy 108 near the intersection of Hwy 9 in Mill Spring. Light refreshments and vendor exhibitors will be available at 6:30 p.m.; the speakers will begin at 7 p.m.