Dig the New Digs

by Nicholas Schmiedicker - Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
WCNY to unveil downtown facility

As you walk into the main reception area in WCNY’s new building in downtown Syracuse, you are greeted by a host of colors that evoke the color bar test seen on television sets. Large windows dominate the walls around the clean, concrete floors. Underneath the main stairwell lies an old wooden plow, a reminder of the building’s function before WCNY’s renovation.

The team at WCNY is ready to unveil the new offices, a huge collaborative effort that resulted in transforming two warehouses into 56,000 square feet of state-of-the-art facilities. The grand opening isn’t scheduled until Wednesday, Oct. 30, yet WCNY has been operating out of its new buildings since April.

“We really wanted to take a deep dive in community engagement as a public broadcaster,” says Bob Daino, WCNY’s president and chief executive officer. “We were 2.5 miles away in Liverpool; it was like a lifetime away, no one could engage with us.”

WCNY’s new facilities are first and foremost a place for the production and distribution of television and radio. WCNY aims to serve as a central hub for PBS (Public Broadcasting Service). There are a series of computer “pods” that control and manage all of the PBS stations in New York state and New Jersey: nine PBS stations, a total of 35 channels, all running through Syracuse. That amounts to nearly 20 percent of all PBS viewership across the United States.

The capabilities of these “pods” allow the employees of Joint Master Control Operating Co. Inc. to manage up to 200 channels of television content, saving stations that subscribe to the WCNY service millions of dollars. It’s the first of its kind throughout all of PBS.

“I’m also talking to 21 more stations across the country to have them outsource their master control services, their sausage-making facilities, through WCNY, the functions that send out all their TV signals across the areas they support,” Daino says.

Scattered throughout the building are editing suites that can double as conference rooms for editors to showcase their work on a particular show or segment. Each is color-coded and named after a corresponding character from Sesame Street. The “Cookie Monster” editing suite is awash in blue and features a more intimate setting; the “Elmo” suite is large and houses enough room to comfortably seat more than a dozen people.

Each suite is outfitted with a 51-inch high-definition TV and a solid pane of full touchscreen glass that has all the built-in functionality of the “smart boards” found in many school classrooms. From the conference table, a 27.5-inch iMac computer can raise up for editing, which can be viewed on the TV, and the entire room is wired for optimal sound, just as it would be heard in a living room. The purpose is to bring a team, or customer, into the room and perform, in a more collaborative manner, the last work on a particular video package.

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While the editing suites and employees’ desks are each fitted with a computer capable of handling their production needs, WCNY also offers laptops that are powerful enough to handle the data and processing required to edit video. In a move designed to mimic other high-profile technology companies, such as the Google campus, WCNY is trying to end the notion of chaining employees to their desks. If an employee wants to work on one of the many desks or lounges in the facility, or even take the laptop outside to work, they are welcome to do so.

A smaller section of the new facilities is devoted to radio broadcasting, with two radio studios and a readout facility.

One of the most innovative and impressive features of the facility is on the third floor: a new Educational Center that houses a program called Enterprise America. There’s a 10,000-square-foot mock city, complete with a city hall and 14 businesses. The purpose? To educate middle-school students in a real-life immersive learning experience.

“A place where 120 kids a day can come in here and operate a movie-magic city. It looks just like an urban city,” Daino says. “Kids that range from fifth to ninth grade, taught in school with the Common Core standards for three weeks before coming here for a five-hour visit.”

The businesses include a bank, a broadcast center, a news business, a health-care center and a manufacturing business. Streets and street signs are laid out separating the areas, and the kids are encouraged to run every aspect of the city.

Students who act as police officers can issue tickets for jaywalking, for example. The ticketed child has to go to the corrections office. Children will visit the health center, learn about health insurance and which, if any, they would like to buy.

“The idea is for them to interact as business owners and consumers,” Daino explains. “For instance, the manufacturing business makes pens, then they take orders from all the other businesses and finally hire the shipping company to deliver the pens, at which point they get invoices and payments.”

WCNY has also procured voting booths to help teach kids how to operate the booths.

Up to 30,000 students per year from private, parochial, public or home-school setting are expected to use the facility. There are only three other programs in the nation like Enterprise America, yet nothing that operates on the level of the facility here.

“They all interact like a real urban city, without the adults,” Daino says.

A lot of effort was put into designing for the building to be as energy-efficient

as possible. From the many windows, there’s a clear view of the three rain gardens around the facility. They are planted to capture 95 percent of rainwater that falls on the campus so it doesn’t go into the sewer system.

“The roofs are completely covered with solar panels,” Daino says.

He said he is proud of the amount of energy being generated on-site and that self-sustainability was one of the goals of the move from Liverpool.

“We generate 95 {kilowatts} of all our own electricity, which we consume based on our great needs,” he said.

That can power 1,583 60-watt incandescent light bulbs or 3,800 energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs.

When planning the complex, Daino thought about building as many community assets into the construction as possible. It has enough generator power and a battery backup so WCNY can serve as a command center for elected officials in the event of a communitywide emergency.

WCNY is filing for certification as a platinum facility, the highest rating from the Green Building Council. A stipulation is that 75 percent of materials from the former building must be repurposed and recycled. Columns from the warehouse were shipped to a facility in the Adirondacks were they were cleaned and refinished before being sent back.

“Those are 125-year-old timbers,” Daino says, gesturing to a framework for a covered garden trellis walkway. “We brought them back into the community to serve as a historic aspect of the site.”

The trellis serves as a walkway connecting a community café to an outdoor eating area. Whether people would like to eat indoors or outside in a courtyard, they are encouraged to come to WCNY for lunch.

The large courtyard outside will also have a television screen installed with plans for a movie night each night and special programming. WCNY wants to bring kids and their families to the area. They encourage the big screen to be used for video games and Xbox contests for kids as a way to engage community involvement.

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