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11/30/2004 - St. Anne’s Debuts High Tech Childcare

Intelligent community buzzwords include fiber-to-the home, fiber-to-the-classroom, fiber-to-the desktop --- now Spokane even has fiber-to-the-nursery. St. Anne’s Children and Family Center has an optical fiber connection allowing them to use gigabit Ethernet to change and enhance the way they take care of children.

Open just over a month, Catholic Charities’ St. Anne’s Children and Family Center cares for children from ages one month to about six years. The facility has many childcare amenities --- one care giver for every four infants, in-suite washers and driers, kitchenettes, and changing tables. There is easy access to indoor and outdoor play areas, a children’s kitchen where the children cook, and a full commercial kitchen for “from scratch” daycare meals. There is a full range of educational activities. However, the one thing parents appreciate most about St. Anne’s is the technology that enables them to watch their children over the Internet from their work place, according to Robert McCann, Associate Director of Catholic Charities.

St. Anne’s has both optical fiber and copper connectivity through Sacred Heart medical center. The optical fiber connection was put into place because St. Anne’s also contains Cuddles and Care, a children’s hospital unit. The gigabit Ethernet capability made possible by the fiber supports Web cameras throughout the building and in all of the outside play areas. These are digital video recording (DVR) cameras that have their own server with some 40 gigabytes of storage space. The recorded images are encoded using MPEG-4 to compress and encrypt the video so that it can be transported over the Internet efficiently between the DVR and the parents’ computer. It is then decompressed and decrypted and displayed for viewing. This means that the parent, at work, can watch their children’s activities in real time. Also, should there be any problem; a visual log is available for review.

In addition to the Web cams, St. Anne’s takes full advantage of the technology available to them. The entire facility is secure. When a family enrolls at St. Anne’s, the parents are issued an identification “key”. This key allows them to enter the building --- all other must be “buzzed” in. Every time a parent enters the building, they sign in at a kiosk that runs software called ProCare. Each child is signed in and out separately, so there’s never any question as to who and how many are in the building.

Each childcare suite has a computer, and the care givers keep careful logs. At the end of the day, a printout of all of the child’s activities is made available to the parent.

All of the communications systems are integrated. If anyone on the staff has a telephone call, locating them first on the Web cam system means they can be more easily paged. The whole facility need not be disrupted --- or babies wakened --- by global intercom activity. It also precludes paging anyone at a really bad time. Parents may telephone their child’s care giver at any time.

St. Anne’s was funded in part by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. When Greg Shaw, Gates Foundation project overseer, visited St. Anne’s he was given a full tour and he was impressed with the cutting edge technology in the new center. St Anne’s even has a NOC (network operations center) --- secure, air conditioned, and full fire suppression in place. The technology was designed in from the beginning when architect Anne Martin hired CSK Communications as the communications consultant and sub-contractor. Thanks to CSK, all telecommunications and technology systems were designed and implemented for full systems integration, and the entire NOC is documented for easy future additions. “Working with Jim Burke and CSK, probably saved the project between $35 and $40 thousand,” says McCann.
On the corner of Fifth and Browne, St. Anne’s can even connect to the SpokaneHotZonesm.

St. Anne’s is enrolling children. For more information, call (509) 232 – 1111, or visit http://www.catholiccharitiesspokane.org/?page=15.

Billie Moreland
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