Updating Technology for Big Brothers Big Sisters

Big Brothers-Big Sisters House

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta (BBBSMA) wanted to increase its space and improve its visibility to attract volunteers to serve as mentors for children. In a strategic move, BBBSMA purchased the 100-year-old Mitchell King House building, which provides twice the amount of space of the non-profit's previous location, as well as a highly visible address at 1382 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, Georgia. However, BBBSMA needed to update the technology in the building without jeopardizing its historic character.


The Mitchell King House, originally designed and built in 1912 by J. L. Hiers, has a blend of Craftsman style and Tudor Revival features. The building was previously recognized by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation as a historic property under National Register Criterion C, which evaluates the historic significance of buildings in terms of distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction. The brick building features distinctive Craftsman style 6-over-1 doublehung sash windows, exposed rafter tails and bracketed overhangs. It also features the Tudor Revival style crenellated bay tower and ornament, multipane windows.

The age of the Mitchell King House presented several unique challenges when it came to installing a new network infrastructure system. BBBSMA was determined to preserve the historic character of the building while making it operational by updating its technology. Unlike modern buildings, many historical buildings were not originally constructed to accommodate modern-day network infrastructures, electrical cables, closedcircuit television (CCTV) cameras, video intercom systems, access control systems or alarm systems. Most modern buildings include spaces such as suspended ceilings, hollow walls, underfloor ducts and raised floors to allow easy access to pathways that house these systems. Without modern pathway accommodations, technicians must find ways to work around blocked pathways while preserving the historic character and design of a building. Aged buildings also must be tested for asbestos prior to beginning installation work. Thankfully, asbestos turned out to not be a concern in this installation.

Even though the previous owner modernized much of the building's technology, BBBSMA needed to update the network infrastructure to support multiple applications, including voice and data, a CCTV camera system, an Internet protocol (IP)-based video intercom system, an access control system, a turnkey intrusion alarm system, multiple TVs and AV sound and video systems. The network infrastructure system in the house also needed to be consolidated. It contained various categories of cable, ranging from five to 15 years old. While the existing network infrastructure system included multiple telecommunications rooms (TRs) spread throughout the building, BBBSMA wanted to streamline the infrastructure with a central main equipment room (ER) for better manageability. The existing network infrastructure system also needed updating to accommodate the new floor layout, which was designed to fit the specific needs of BBBSMA. In addition, the existing system did not have a complete, accurate set of documentation for maintenance and troubleshooting purposes.

AV equipment in multiple rooms
AV equipment in multiple rooms

Updating the network infrastructure system at the house meant installing 251 category 5e plenum-rated cables to support 132 work area locations. In addition, three RG6 coaxial quad shield plenum cables were routed from each work area to the ER to support TV applications. The board room was equipped with technology to support AV applications, including surface-mount speakers, an overhead projector system with high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) and video graphics array (VGA) switchable inputs, an audio amplifier and a room navigator wall plate control system.

BBBSMA's CCTV camera system features an H.264 embedded digital recorder, which provides the highest possible digital recording quality across multiple channels up to 60 frames per second (fps) at 4:2:2 component digital (D1) resolution and up to 240 fps at common intermediate format (CIF) resolution. The system's cameras are vandalresistant and provide a high level of color sensitivity and high resolution in both day and night applications. The CCTV system also includes a designated IP address, which provides Web access to view footage remotely via a computer, mobile device or tablet.

The new IP video intercom system is a network-based IP video door entry security management system. Similar to the CCTV system, the video intercom system includes secure remote management and access over the Internet. The system is capable of recording both audio and color video. The access control system manages entry to the facility through card readers and software for added safety and security. The turnkey intrusion alarm system features advanced remote management, including remote control over the Internet. The ER build-out included the installation of two-post equipment racks, a basket tray and associated horizontal and vertical wire management. Category 5e data and voice cable were terminated onto 48-port modular patch panels in a sequential fashion, separated by floor and using a 568-B termination scheme.


Electricians conducted extensive exploratory investigations to determine the location of existing pathways and to identify where new pathways could be added. Even though the building is now an office space, it was originally built as a house. Much of the existing infrastructure therefore resembled a residential installation with no plenum space between floors or above ceilings. One portion of the building required approximately 60 cables to be routed from the main ER to difficult-to-reach, hard ceiling locations. This required working with the general contractor to accomplish the necessary pathways for these challenging locations.

Further complicating matters, many of the walls of the house were plaster and considered historical 'preservation zones.' Comprised of wooden frames covered by wooden slats and wire mesh and then filled with plaster, these walls leave no space for cable or utility pathways. New pathways in these areas required working closely with electricians to determine where and how to deploy pathways that would avoid cutting through the plaster walls. Thankfully, some of the walls in the building had been renovated with sheetrock, and the electricians were able to provide access down the walls for the voice and data cabling.

Access to the first floor of the house was accomplished via a half-basement and crawlspace. To connect cable from the main point of entry in the basement of the original part of the building to the ER on the second floor of the building's modern addition, cable was routed through existing conduit. In some instances, technicians were able to use existing wire chases. For the most part, technicians were able to avoid installing cable in the plaster walls. Electrical metallic conduit was the most commonly used conduit for the project.

The new network infrastructure and centralized ER provides BBBSMA with an easy-to-manage, streamlined information technology system. The old system did not have complete drawings, but the new system provides BBBSMA with complete, up-to-date as-built drawings, which include:

  • Final floor plan drawings showing the location of cabling and conduits
  • A cable schedule that defines the cable type, identifier, distance and location
  • Elevation drawings and detailed drawings of equipment installed
  • Cable and equipment test results and certification documentation


BBBSMA now has the best of both worlds, the charm of a 100-year-old building in a prime location with the convenience of an updated network infrastructure technology. Following installation, BBBSMA relocated to the building in 2012 and held a ribbon cutting ceremony later that year to celebrate the completion of the renovation. By doubling its available space to 25,000 square feet, BBBSMA anticipates increasing the number of children it serves to 5,000 by 2016. The new location also provides enough space for the organization to grow from 40 employees to more than 75.3.

In addition, the BBBSMA building will be the first Big Brothers Big Sisters facility with a building certified under the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC®) Leadership in Energy and Reprinted with permission from BICSI News Magazine–July/August 2013 issue. The articles, opinions and ideas expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BICSI, its members or its staff. BICSI is not liable in any way, manner or form for the articles, opinions and ideas, and readers are urged to exercise professional caution in undertaking any of the recommendations or suggestions made by authors.

Endnotes Redistributed with permission from BICSI News Magazine–July/August 2013 issue.