If all goes as planned, the city will soon have a head start on a new fiber optic Community Area Network CAN), designed to not only continue to meet technology needs and improve communication between city and county facilities, but in turn save an estimated $60,000 per year.
As explained by City Information Technology (IT) director Ron Turner; a CAN is a high speed communication network, collectively designed and managed to promote innovation, competition and economic viability in the community.
CAN’s in Wisconsin most commonly serve local units of local and state government, educational institutions, libraries, healthy care and non-profit organizations. Network members pool resources to include existing infrastructure, technical expertise and financial support for capital investment. The CAN is managed jointly by its members and the final product is high speed communication network to better meet the citizens of the city of Merrill.
In the case of the CAN planned to move forward this spring, would be a joint effort between the city of Merrill and Lincoln County.
Organization has been in the works for four years according to Turner, with the first meeting being held in October of 2013; when the concept was first discussed at the TB Scott Library Long Range Planning meeting.
Meetings moderated by Art Lersch of the UW-Extension Office progressed to the first meeting of network members in October of 2014, including representatives from the city of Merrill, Lincoln County and MAPS (Merrill Area Public Schools).
Then in February of 2015 Kaukauna, Wis. based Livermore Engineering Services was brought on board with the project to begin physical planning and engineering. In May of last year, the firm completed a design plan and in October, the city and county agreed on a partnership in moving forward with the project; garnering city Common Council approval that same month and county board approval in November.
As Turner explains, Northcentral Technical College was also contacted but has chosen to not be a part of the initial design process.
“Originally we contracted with Livermore Technologies, an engineering firm based out of Kaukauna, for design of a Community Area Network involving the city and the county as members. MAPS and NTC opted out of the initial design process but may become members at a later date.
“What we have now done, is take the design of the network involving city and county facilities and begin phased construction of the CAN, with the first of four phases to begin in May,” Turner said.
“When completed, the network will link all city and county buildings.”
Phase one will link city hall with the Lincoln County Service Center on Sales Street as well as the County Highway Shop on Cooper Street and the new Expo Center at the Merrill Festival Grounds.
Although still very early in the process, Turner roughly estimates the first phase to come with a price tag of $170,000.
However, he is quick to caution that estimate is on the high end and will most likely be much lower.
“It’ s important to point out the cost will be split between the city and the county,” he adds.
“The process will also include competitive bidding which is planned to begin at the end of the month.”
As with other projects, price would be a factor in deciding which contractor is awarded the project
The estimated $60,000 annual cost savings will come as a result of the city now operating its own network, rather than continue to lease a network as is currently the case.
“The city has been leasing from private companies for quite some time and now by having and operating its own network, the city will see considerable savings compared to outsourcing.”
Another cost saving measure to be used in phase 1 and continuous phases is that of taking advantage of planned street department projects to ‘trench’ fiber optic cable, rather than using a method of ‘boring’, which is considerably more expensive.
“This spring, the street department will be tearing up a few blocks of 2nd street to replace water and sewer lines,” Turner explains.
“During that project we can come in and take advantage of the street already being opened up, to trench our fiber optic cable rather than boring, which would normally be done otherwise. The savings alone from using this method over boring, is estimated to be around $9,000.
“We will continue to explore similar cost saving measures and will work to coordinate with the street department on other projects. We of course want to complete our goal of building this network which will bring so many advantages, at the lowest cost possible.”
Turner expects the project to ultimately pay for itself in 10 years or less.
Phase 1 of the CAN project is expected to be completed by August. Additional phases will move forward pending annual budget approval.