With seed money from the Collington Foundation, a proposed major upgrade of the internet service on campus was announced by CEO Ann Gillespie on October 28.
The quarter-million-dollar project includes two major elements. It will bring new fiber cable to campus, which will allow digital information to flow three times faster than the current Comcast connections. The second element will bring state-of-the-art WiFi6 connection nodes to cottages, apartments, and the Creighton Center.
The work will entail running wires to cottages and putting the new connection nodes in the attics of all homes. New connections and repositioned hallway nodes will assure apartment dwellers and Creighton Center residents with the same benefits. Residents will see dramatic improvements in their connectivity, according to Rob Reigle, Collington’s Director of IT Services and Special Projects. “Residents with separate Comcast accounts will be able to cancel them,” said Reigle. There will be no need for WiFi “extenders” either.
Reigle added that the upgrades will “future-proof” the WiFi system. “The added capacity and state-of-the-art connection nodes mean that new devices utilizing emerging WiFi6 technology will be accommodated,” he added.
Largely due to the unexpected costs related to the coronavirus, the project was unable to be included in capital budget plans. Undaunted by the cost, CEO Gillespie directed her team and the Collington Foundation Board to come up with a plan that would not increase residents’ monthly fees.
Reigle provided all the technical design elements and will assume the project manager role himself; his team will provide all the programming functions. He pledged to do so without sacrificing current services. The Administration also committed to provide additional ancillary work and all project cleanup costs. This in-kind staffing contribution lowered the cost by an estimated $25-30,000. The remaining funding is to be provided by the Foundation donors.
The Foundation will provide a seed grant of $75,000 out of its unrestricted funds. “It will be the largest single grant we have ever provided,” according to Board Chair Nadine Hathaway. The grant must receive final approval from the Foundation’s Award Committee and its board, but both have signaled preliminary approval.
The balance of the cost, about $175,000, will come from a unique fundraising drive by the Foundation. “We will be reaching out to residents, families, board members, friends, and affiliated businesses,” said Bonnie Cronin, the Foundation’s Development Committee Chair , noting that the Foundation has funded other capital projects on campus, although never one so large.
The Foundation is slated to kick-off its funding drive on December 3. The date coincides with the conclusion of the hugely important Employee Appreciation Fund drive, run by the Residents Association. The RA expects to send out holiday checks starting December 3 to Collington’s 235 staff members, thanking them for the many services they provide to campus residents.
During its own annual funding drive, the Foundation will be asking for special contributions for the WiFi project alongside its usual programs. “We are looking for new donors as well as asking existing donors for gifts over and above their usual amounts in order to meet the extra financial needs,” according to Hathaway. She added that first-time donors to the Foundation would have their contributions matched by an anonymous donor.
“We hope to have sufficient funds in hand so that the project can get underway at the start of 2021,” according to Hathaway. Once funded, the work is expected to take six months to complete.
The covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a dramatic 4-fold increase in internet usage, according to Gillespie. “Residents feel isolated, and lack of connectivity is a major problem,” she added. “Zoom calls with loved ones were unheard of a year ago. Today they are a key method of letting families interact,” Gillespie explained, pointing to their widespread use in the Creighton Center.
Reigle noted that residents have turned to their computers for a wide range of new uses, from viewing Sunday services, to stage plays, music, streaming tv programs, and more. Similarly, the Residents’ Association has turned to Zoom for its many meetings.
CEO Gillespie and Foundation Chair Hathaway both concluded their interviews the same way: “Please give generously.”