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October 1, 2014

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TELEVISION:

High-tech, green collaboration

School District, Vegas PBS to offer environmentally sound campus for local agencies’ use

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Sam Morris

Vegas PBS General Manager Tom Axtell says education is the primary mission of $65 million facility. The space will be shared with the Clark County School District’s educational technology department and the Virtual High School.

Beyond the Sun

The Clark County School District’s new technology campus — a $65 million, 112,000-square-foot complex that will be the new home of Vegas PBS — won’t be finished until March.

Admirers are lining up.

Architects are praising its environmentally and aesthetically innovative design, at Flamingo Road and Pecos-McLeod. Local agencies are seeking to use the facility, which includes a homeland security nerve center, for teaching medical personnel and training crime scene investigators. Other public television stations are evaluating it as a model for expanding beyond the basic programming that they have long been known for.

Indeed, public television has rarely been this interesting — homeland security, distance education and cooking shows, all in a building that redefines “green” construction.

The combination will allow Vegas PBS “to develop its own revenue stream and have less reliance on public support,” said Clark County Schools Superintendent Walt Rulffes. “I really see it as the wave of the future.”

The Clark County School Board holds the broadcasting license for Vegas PBS, which includes eight broadcast channels, on-demand educational programming and network services. The cost of the project is divided between the district and Vegas PBS, which is independent from the School District.

Education is central to the facility’s mission, so too is turning local programming into moneymakers.

In studios equipped to be used as an on-air kitchen, Tom Axtell, general manager of Vegas PBS, envisions cooking shows starring local chefs. He’s hired an executive with syndication expertise.

“We have tremendous talent and resources in this town,” Axtell said. “We’re going to tap that.”

Also sharing the campus is the district’s educational technology department and the Virtual High School, which provides distance education for thousands of students.

The district’s educational technology department and Virtual High School are housed in a separate, structurally independent building alongside Vegas PBS’. There are offices, meeting rooms and small classroom studios, where teachers can record lectures for Web broadcast. A fully equipped science lab is wired for recording.

The lab was added after a district administrator pointed out that Virtual High School students aren’t able to take some Advanced Placement science classes as a result.

It too will generate additional revenue. Because district students will use the lab on a limited basis, there’s time to schedule outside agencies to use it, Axtell said.

The lab has drawn the interest of the Southern Nevada Area Health Education Center, an arm of the UNR School of Medicine, and Metro Police, Axtell said. The former wants to use it to offer classes and workshops to health professionals, and the latter needs space to train crime scene investigators.

“To be in a proper educational venue with state-of-the art facilities is going to enhance the quality of everything we do,” said Rose Yuhos, executive director of Southern Nevada AHEC. The health center’s staff can also work on public service programming centered around family wellness and nutrition, she said.

The arrangement could become “a model for the rest of the country,” Yuhos said.

The Vegas PBS facility will also serve as the federally designated Homeland Security emergency operations center.

After the 9/11 attacks, 31 public television affiliates formed a coalition to make sure the stations’ resources could be put to use in an emergency.

Vegas PBS’ digital television signal will serve as backup if conventional communication lines collapse.

The building is designed to ensure its systems survive a disaster or attack. It is reinforced to withstand a powerful earthquake, the valley’s most likely natural disaster.

The station is also developing the ability to operate at least a week with no external power, which would allow it to inform viewers and emergency personnel at a time when there might not be any other sources of information.

The environmental and aesthetic design elements of the facility are attracting the most attention.

The campus is aiming for a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which recognizes sustainability, water efficiency, materials and resources as well as innovation and design.

The design by JMA Architects of Las Vegas features underground wells that will help cool the building in the summer. A cistern beneath the parking lot will collect runoff water and recycle it in the landscaping.

The building’s interior and exterior were designed to maximize natural sunlight and reduce reliance on artificial lighting.

Rooms were designed for flexibility. For example, a storage facility for VHS tapes, which are still used by some schools, will eventually be phased out and when that technology is no longer in use. The storage room’s outer wall can then be easily converted into windows, turning the library into office space.

The building should serve the community for 50 years, Axtell said, long after today’s cutting-edge digital systems go the way of VHS.

“We don’t know what’s coming next in terms of technology,” Axtell said. “But we wanted to make sure the building could support it long after we’re gone.”

The facility might become a “signature” project for the region, said Deepika Padam, the 2009 president of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Nevada chapter, which awards LEED certification in the region.

“It exemplifies that green buildings don’t have to be simple,” Padam said. “It’s high-tech and structurally sound.”

True to its educational mission, Vegas PBS plans a six-part documentary on the new building.

“Education is the key word here,” Padam said. “Anyone can do a green building, but unless you educate people about it, how can they learn to do the same in the future?”

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