KILGORE — Kilgore ISD trustees unanimously agreed recently to spend $132,000 to update radio communications technology in an effort to enhance security at campuses.
Superintendent Andy Baker told trustees at their Nov. 18 board meeting that a plan to upgrade radio communication has been in the works for a long time.
“This is something I know we’ve talked about, both formally and informally, in turn, but one of our district goals we’re trying to accomplish this year has fallen off into the realm of security, about making an upgrade in our current radio communications. We did go through a formal process to solicit some proposals from area companies for this,” Baker said before asking district Director of Technology Mark Lane to discuss the proposals with the board.
“The Safety and Security Committee has met over the last year and has really identified this as one of the key areas that we can improve on,” Lane said, citing Kilgore High School as the campus experiencing the most radio communication issues.
He said the construction of buildings at the high school, built in 1932, creates “dead spots,” making radio communication difficult or impossible in some places.
“There were definitely some problems there,” Lane said.
He also cited complaints from the district Transportation Department about a lack of radio coverage on school bus routes in outlying areas where cellphone coverage also is unreliable.
A primary goal of upgrading district communications systems is to ensure reliable communications between campuses in the event of an emergency.
Reliable radio communications between campuses is also “handy,” Lane said.
This spring, the district began talking with radio engineers and continued those discussions into the fall. The discussions led to the creation of a multistage plan, beginning with the most significant problem areas at the high school.
The district asked local vendors for a proposal encompassing new radio equipment for the high school, school bus and transportation department radios and a select group of radios for each campus to ensure effective communications with new radio systems on school buses.
The new systems would include a switch from the district’s use of analog VHF to digital UHF. The analog frequencies can become very crowded and are “not great for bouncing around the walls of a building like Kilgore High School,” Lane said. The switch to digital frequencies was recommended by every source the district consulted.
The district invited eight vendors to submit proposals, talked with four of those and finally settled on two proposals presented to trustees at the Nov. 18 meeting.
The preferred proposal came from Crosspoint Communications, a company specializing in Motorola radio communications equipment with locations in Texas, Arizona and Colorado.
The company’s proposal called for the installation of a radio repeater on a tower at the high school to boost two-way radio communication signals. The cost came to $84,000. Lane said the district had the option to choose radio equipment with fewer features to lower the total cost.
Trustee Dereck Borders recommended against choosing radio equipment with fewer features, such as digital display screens, if the long-term benefit of the features would outweigh a higher upfront cost.
Setting up the new radio equipment would be fairly quick, Lane said, but the installation of the radio repeater could take six to eight weeks. A repeater at the high school would provide effective radio coverage in an approximately 16-mile radius in the district.
An additional repeater could be added on the south side of town in the future to create redundant paths in case one repeater fails. It also would slightly boost the district’s coverage radius.
Baker said the district’s $131,135 radio improvement project could be broken into two phases.
Phase 1 would cost $84,935.72 for new radio equipment, including the repeater. Phase 2 would cost $46,200 for an additional 48 UHF radios and the additional repeater.
Baker told trustees a School Safety and Security grant from Texas Education Agency already has been earmarked for the district and could put an additional $66,000 toward the communications improvement project.