A jumbo digital sign comprising four LCD units welcomes visitors to the Parker Fieldhouse.

Fieldhouse Sports Digital Signage

Town of Parker, Colo., deploys IP surveillance cameras and digital signs for its sparkling new recreational facility.

How do you secure a new 100,000-square-foot sports and recreation center and communicate with visitors with minimal staffing? That’s a riddle the Town of Parker, Colo., solved with technology. The deployment of surveillance cameras and digital signage ended up being rather unique, just like the Parker Fieldhouse itself.

The recreation department needed to run the building with just two workers at the front desk and a facility manager. The front desk of the building is centrally located, with a view of all three main sports venues — the artificial turf field, the inline hockey rink and the gymnasium. However, there were many areas not visible directly, including the children’s play area, the cardio/workout area, the running track and a number of exterior doors. With this in mind, the solution was to use surveillance cameras with a monitoring station at the front desk.

The cameras would allow staff to keep tabs on important areas of the facility without leaving the front desk. However, we could not expect staff to monitor the video feeds all the time. We’d need to record the video so they could go back and look at something after it happened. This was a perfect application for IP surveillance cameras.

Up Against the Clock

As I was working on the request for proposal, one formidable challenge emerged: The builders told me I’d need to have the cameras installed within 45 days or else I’d have to wait until after the facility opened. There was absolutely no way I’d be able to get the RFP out, select a vendor, order the equipment and arrange for installation unless I did most of the work myself.

I decided on gear from Axis Communications because the vendor is a leader in the field and could provide the entire solution (both hardware and software). What’s more, its cameras use industry-standard replaceable lenses.

We used 12 Axis 221 and three 216FD-V IP cameras, along with nine CCTV cameras, which were necessary to solve certain problems. With a facility as large as this one, and with only one data room and no extra wiring closets, some of the cabling runs to cameras in remote parts of the facility were well beyond the 100-meter distance limitation of Ethernet. For those, I chose to use standard coax video cabling along with low-voltage wiring from the central data room. The standard video signal then connects to Axis 240Q video servers for conversion to IP.

All video recording uses a general-purpose server running Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition and the Axis Camera Station software. The server has a 1TB RAID 10 array, which is large enough to keep two weeks’ worth of video from all the cameras, given that some are set to record only when there’s motion in the field of view.

The equipment cost $35,000, including the server-monitoring station and cameras. Because we used our own staff to install most of the gear, we spent only about $3,000 in outside labor.

Digital Information Desk

While I was investigating cameras, I thought about ways to engage visitors and communicate as much as information as we could as quickly as possible. The front desk workers wouldn’t be as effective in their jobs if they had to stop constantly to answer the many queries facility visitors would have. Digital signage was the answer.

I received assistance from manufacturer Clarity Visual Systems (now part of Planar), makers of the CoolSign 3.0 signage software and LCD displays, as well as our reseller. Once people could see the technology and its workings, plus how easy it was to use, that went a long way toward my cause.

Our recreation department director signed off on the project after he had an a-ha moment on vacation when he happened upon a digital sign in his hotel. That’s when my previous explanations and campaigning clicked for him, and he spent time exploring what this technology could mean to the facility. He returned to work as the new champion of the project.

I worked with the recreation department staff and the folks from Planar to design the signage system. We designed it with many uses in mind, including communicating the daily schedule of venue events, upcoming event and class information, locker room assignments, daily admission and pro shop pricing and sponsored advertising. Although soliciting advertising is not a common governmental function, almost all the funding for our recreation department comes from advertisements from local businesses, membership dues and fees. The recreation department has done a fantastic job of using the signage system in its overall revenue plan, and current earnings figures are far in excess of their original estimations for the facility.

We implemented four signage displays in the facility: one at the front desk, one at the locker room entrance and two close to the entrances to the facility. The main entrance lobby sign is the largest, consisting of two 32-inch Samsung widescreen LCD units and two 40-inch Clarity Visual System Bobcat displays physically grouped together. Each screen has a dedicated computer for delivering its video and running the specialized player software, which organizes and displays the digital multimedia content.

The computers reside in our data room, with their video transmitted to the screens via Extron video over CAT-5 equipment. CoolSign 3.0 sits on a general-purpose server running Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition. CoolSign software allows the server to synchronize content and playlists to the players, and provides a means to connect to several local databases that house the facility schedules, locker room assignments and such.

This allows staff to update information quickly on the displays by simply changing the information in the database. The signage system also connects to the Internet to get weather information and sports scores to populate several scrolling, ticker-style display elements.

With the majority of the support for the project coming from the recreation department director, I felt strongly we needed to spend enough to get it right without cutting too many corners. However, I still had a responsibility to keep the spending from going too far. We spent about $78,000 for the digital signage deployment. The bulk of the cost was attributed to software and the display hardware; we spent just under $15,000 on labor.

Implementation Improves Productivity

Both systems have been relatively trouble-free to maintain and operate since the Parker Fieldhouse opened in June 2007. The fieldhouse staff is happy to have these systems in place and feels it boosts productivity.

We also get many compliments from private and government groups that have toured the facility. Many are initially surprised by the inclusion of surveillance and signage systems, but once they understand the thought processes behind implementation, they always comment about taking the ideas they have seen back to their own facilities and finding ways to use them. That, for me, makes it all worthwhile.

Image provided by Sink Combs Dethlefs - Architects.
Nov 26 2007