Education Market Focus: Saint Michael's Gets Student Nod for Multi-Card Control

Feb. 11, 2012
Saint Michael's does away with keys in move to electronic access control

Known throughout Vermont as the “happiest college on earth” Saint Michael's College has implemented the centerpiece of a grand plan for student safety and convenience at its handsome Century-old-plus private campus community.

Founded in 1904, this close-knit campus community offers undergraduate and graduate students a perspective-changing exploration of the liberal arts on a 440-acre campus in the hills of Colchester, overlooking Burlington. For student safety and convenience, high-tech electronic access control has been implemented in the college’s 10 major residence halls.

Access control was introduced to the campus in the summer of 2010. In Phase I, systems integrator Kolram Access & Security, North Haven, Conn., installed an access control system supplied by Sielox, Runnemede, N.J., an integrated access control and video surveillance solutions company. The apartment-style buildings are designed for multiple access and common users, perfect subjects for electronic access control where the major rationale is, of course, to eliminate the need for mechanical keys: so easy to lose or duplicate and even more likely to be casually handed out to friends.

The college houses nearly 2,000 people on campus, with all first-year students assigned to two major residence halls. Until access control was introduced, most of the students had to keep track of two keys: one for the individual room and the other a common key to the residence hall or, for upper classes, their specific suite building and apartment or townhouse unit.

From budgetary to marketing issue

Although it was implemented in the summer of 2010, college authorities had been considering electronic access for a number of years. The roadblock was always a budgetary issue, but more recently it was increasingly found to also be a “marketing” impetus. More and more parents and potential students coming to look at Saint Michael’s were telling of other campuses successfully equipped with access control.

The college authorities began to consider good access control an institutional priority. The project was ultimately funded as a technology improvement and Bill Anderson, Saint Michael’s chief information officer, was assigned the role of project leader. Most of the work for the residence-hall phase of the project was completed over the summer of 2010. Seventy-six doors were included in the first wave.

Upgraded multi-use ID cards

In the process of implementing access control, identification cards were upgraded for the entire student body. Both newly arriving and returning students in the fall of 2010 were issued new 16-K id Cbord system “Knightcard” ID smartcards by the cashier’s office. Students assigned to the major residence halls, including Alliot Hall, which houses the student center, found that the entrance doors were now under access control and it was necessary to use their smartcards to gain access.

The new cards are versatile, displaying the student’s photo and appropriate data, and include a magnetic stripe so that in addition to required access, they can be used for dining services, the debit-card program, campus vending machines and printers, the school library, and even, very conveniently for some, as a bus pass on the regional transit system.

The non-propping benefit

In the old mechanical-lock days students had a habit of propping their doors open, obviously a major concern for the school’s student-safety staff. With the new access control there has been a dramatic reduction in propped doors. Not only has the perceived need to prop the door diminished, but if a door is, for some reason, propped open, the situation is registered as a local alarm on the Sielox server in the Dispatch Department, recorded on video and investigated.

Essentially Saint Michael’s access control is focused on the large residence halls, but some side benefits have already accrued. One of the residence halls houses an administrative department and the administrative group also takes advantage of available access control. The student services/commons building also has access control in some areas. Appropriate to its function, the public safety/fire control building was already fitted with a form of access control; an earlier system tailored to special needs.

All is well online

As the assignment neared completion, the integrator sent staff to walk the campus looking for possible glitches and making sure the job would go smoothly and finish on time.

Mike Kaiser, operations manager for Kolram Access & Security said the only challenge for the job was the tight timeline. “The job was a bid specification and was awarded later than originally scheduled so we had to jockey around some scheduling to meet the deadline,” Kaiser said. “Instead of starting one building and completing it, we had to jump around to all the buildings in order to get the main entrances done on each before the students returned. The school did not want to hand out keys to the students coming back for the fall semester,” he said.

Kaiser said Kolram works closely with the end user to make sure their needs have been addressed. “We have several meetings and weekly job meetings between our project manager and the school officials in order to make sure their goals and expectations are met. Almost all of our education end user customers have been with us for over 10 years, and I think that says volumes about our quality of work and the relationships we have with end users,” he said.

Kaiser added that the flexibility of the Sielox technicians helped the process. They worked in partnership with the integrator to make sure things would go well when the system went online. And things have gone well. The new arrangements, including reports from the system itself and replays of the associated video, has given campus authorities improved ability to solve issues when they come up; data collected is useful to them in terms of both investigations and just getting their work done.

The Kolram/Sielox team was selected not only for a reasonable bid, but for both companies’ reputations for support, ongoing service and good response time, and the attractive functionality of the access control package.

Looking forward

The next phase will expand campus access control to selected doors in some academic areas that currently have to be locked and unlocked on a daily basis. These additions will include various classrooms, computer labs and athletic facilities, specific areas that the administration would like to have under closer control.