Ballet school ups the tempo with Grand Jete

In the mid-1990s, Toronto’s world-renowned National Ballet School faced a crisis. To effectively compete with other world-class ballet training facilities around the globe, the school desperately needed to upgrade its decades-old downtown campus, including its communications infrastructure.

The answer to the school’s crisis was a plan called Grand Jete, a $90 million project to add and upgrade studios, classrooms and residences. The upgrade also included a revamped voice and data network, complete with soft phones for remote users and electronic display boards.

Although Grand Jete won’t be completed until 2007, students and employees at the school are already reaping the benefits of the new network.

At the heart of NBS’s beefed-up telecom net is NEC’s Univerge NEAX 2000 IPS hyprid IP system.

“We’d talked about voice over IP,” said Larry Beevers, NBS’s head of property and operations. “I wasn’t sure it was totally there yet, but we wanted to start with it. NEC suggested a hybrid system and in years to come we can easily turn over to VoIP.”

NBS currently has four desk-based VoIP phones, but most of its handsets still use digital voice.

Having VoIP available, though, did allow the school to offer portable VoIP handsets to its maintenance staff, whose cell phones often cut out underground. With wireless LAN access installed in maintenance areas, staff can now get phone connections even in deep underground areas surrounded by concrete.

Even more importantly, having a system that supports VoIP allowed the ballet school to install soft phones on the laptops of staff and students.

“We do auditions across the country, so now teachers out in the field can keep in touch with the school much more easily than they could before,” Beevers said.

He said NEC won the project with NBS because the company offered the best available technology. “We told NEC what we’d like to do and they suggested some other things we could do. That’s how we came up with what we have.”

One of NEC’s suggestions was to roll out displays throughout the campus so students could see if they had voice messages on their residence phones.

“It’s a large campus and the students are a couple of blocks away from their residence and this is one way to keep them in touch,” Beevers said, adding that the students aren’t allowed to carry cell phones on campus.

Implementing the new system has gone well, Beevers said. The biggest hurdle was that the NBS’ new administrative building wasn’t finished when the cutover from the old phone system to the new one began. Ultimately departments had to be moved in stages as portions of the new building were finished, while other departments stayed in the old building on the old phone system.

Having both systems up at once required NBS to get the old and new systems talking to one another. Beevers said Bell had a Bell system at the old site and an NEC system at the new building, and had to figure out how to get the two to work together. “[They are] working now, but not without problems.”

Quincy Mittertreiner, NEC’s director of enterprise sales for Canada, agreed that timing was the main challenge in the NBS project.

“Working with the construction people, the cabling people and trying to meet customer milestones was tricky,” he said.

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