School District Goes Underground To Enhance Internet Connectivity

When USD 233 – more commonly known as the Olathe, KS, Public School District – was formed in 1965 by consolidating five smaller districts, enrollment totaled 3,687 students. Since then, it has grown every year and is now the second largest of all the school districts in Kansas. The 2013 school year began with more than 29,000 students attending classes at the four high schools, nine middle schools and 35 elementary school buildings that compose the district.

While many of the buildings within the Olathe district received some type of improvement over the summer break, all students, faculty and administrators – regardless of which facility they frequent – are beneficiaries of a noticeable enhancement in broadband Internet connectivity and performance completed recently.

That’s because for the past year, trenchless crews with K&W Underground, Olathe, have been busy installing an elaborate network – nearly 100,000 feet in all – of high quality fiberoptic cable. The objective of the year-long fiber installation project is to increase bandwidth for all facilities within the network of Olathe public schools, and connect all of the district’s buildings via an elaborate underground fiberoptic network of enhanced quality and connection speed.

K&W Underground was hired by project owner SureWest, a consolidated communications company with offices in nearby Lenexa, KS, Los Angeles and Sacramento, CA. SureWest provides a variety of products and technology services to both commercial and residential customers via an extensive underground fiberoptic network. Rex Schick, president of K&W Underground, credits the detailed installation plan, developed by SureWest well in advance of any work beginning, as an integral factor that contributed to the overall success of the job.

“The value of proper planning certainly came into play several times throughout the underground installation phase,” Schick says. “SureWest did a wonderful job of planning this project from the beginning. Working together with the Olathe School District, their engineering staff completed initial route surveys, which allowed them to develop a detailed design that included how to get from point A to point B, all underground. We had a good, solid plan to work from, which was a huge help from day one.

“They broke the project down into different phases that gave us targets, target completion dates, etc.,” Schick says. “K&W Underground had to implement and execute the plan, and schedule our crews and equipment to be able to accomplish those milestones.”

According to Schick, the ground conditions for this particular job, as typical for most all the projects completed by K&W Underground in the Kansas City metropolitan area, cover a wide gamut including soft loam soil to hard clay and sandstone – even a fair presence of limestone rock, depending on the area. As specified by the drill plan, bore lengths averaged approximately 400 feet, at depths ranging from 36 to 60 inches, depending on ground conditions and existing infrastructure congestion.

Assembly line approach
The project, which involved installing two-inch HDPE conduit to house 24- to 144-count high quality fiberoptic cable for nearly 19 miles – all using horizontal directional drilling (HDD) — was completed using what Schick describes as the company’s assembly line approach.

“K&W basically has crews that specialize in each phase of the job,” he describes. “We have a job coordinator to start with, and his job is to go out and make sure the utility locates have been marked. One of the biggest challenges we faced with this project – like most all of our projects – is congestion presented by the right-of-ways of the other underground utilities.”

The job coordinator determines the running line, in effect, where K&W crews plan to drill, and marks the utilities that need to be potholed and that will either be close to or crossed during a specific bore. Then a vacuum excavation crew goes in and visually verifies the location of the utilities.

“The utilities do their best to try and determine where their lines are, but they’re not always 100 percent accurate,” Schick says. “That’s why K&W takes the approach of positive verification of all marked utility lines with vacuum excavation equipment.”

“What I do could almost be considered risk management,” says Michael Myers, vacuum excavation operator with K&W Underground. “I go out in front of the drill and find the buried or marked utilities using our Vermeer vac.

“This has been a rough project because of the rock, tough dirt and hard clay,” Myers says. “When you hit the hard dirt or the clay, you have to have a vacuum excavator with the power to get through it and get you down to where you need to be to pinpoint the exact locations of existing utilities.”

The vacuum excavation and utilities locating phase of the installation assembly precedes the arrival of horizontal directional drills. In this job, Schick employed a combination approach, using two popular drills manufactured by Vermeer: D20x22 Series II Navigator Tier 3i (Stage III) and D24x40 Series II Navigator.

“We have a directional drill specialist and tie-in crews that use mini excavators and small dump trucks to ready all tie-ins,” Schick says. “They tie together the conduits after the boring is completed, and set hand holes at specific locations along the route for pull points and/or tie-ins for laterals.”

After that phase of the underground installation “assembly” is complete, Schick’s fiberoptic installation crews move into action, to actually install the fiber by either blowing or pulling through the conduit. Next, a restoration team goes back in and reseeds grass and sod, replacing any possible damaged landscaping.

“Finally, we have inside building crews – guys that do inside plant work, installing conduits and fiber from the building entry point to the telecommunications room,” Schick says. “We then have our fiber splicing crew splice, terminate test and certify the fiber routes.”

“At each one of those phases, we have people that specialize in that,” Schick says. “As a result, we felt like we are able to deliver a better quality product to our customer, because each crew is trained and serves as specialists in the specific phase of the installation assembly they serve. Thus, they can do a better quality job.”

That’s the plan
While Schick credits much of the success of the USD 233 fiberoptic installation job to a solid plan established by personnel with SureWest and the city of Olathe school district, he also credits an open and effective line of communication between his own personnel. “The combination of all working together – and effective communication among all parties throughout the process – was significant for completing the job successfully, on-time and on-budget,” he says.

“I can’t really point to any one thing that we didn’t anticipate on this project. It’s right here in our own backyard so we pretty much knew what we were getting into. The congested nature of the right-of-ways was probably our biggest challenge; and a lot of the reason for choosing the Vermeer drills. We really like the thrust limiters, specifically when we’re drilling rock or sandstone.”

K&W Underground was founded in October 1975 to provide underground utility installation services. The company’s early foundation was built on installing rural underground water lines, before later gravitating to telecommunications. K&W Underground provides turnkey solutions for a variety of customers including integrated communications providers, municipalities and specialized industry. The company employs more than 75 underground specialists from its Olathe headquarters.

K & W Underground, (913) 782-7387,
Vermeer Corp., (888) 837-6337,

Related Articles

    Find articles with similar topics