An electronic security system at Florida Community College’s Deerwood Center is meeting the changing access control needs of the facility, as it continues its growth from a former shopping mall to a full-fledged campus.

Deerwood Center is part of the Florida Community College of Jacksonville, the 10th largest community college in the U.S. and the second largest in the state. The state of Florida differentiates between a campus and center based on student population requirements and other physical criteria. Still defined as a center, Deerwood serves approximately 8,000 students and continues to grow.

Originally built as an upscale retail mall that served the surrounding area on Jacksonville’s southeast side, the facility was purchased in 1994 when the mall failed and the last store closed. Since then, the College has remodeled the facility extensively but kept some of the mall’s character, including a central open area atrium that functions as a gathering spot.

Handling growth

Dr. Patty Adeeb, executive director of Deerwood Center, points out that a majority of its enrolled students are working adults earning AA degrees. As a result, the facility is extremely busy during evening hours. She explains, “We’re to full capacity in the evening with regard to available classroom spaces, thus our parking lot also is full.” To help accommodate the growth, the busy and growing facility will be adding a parking garage and has recently purchased an adjacent vacant store building to expand its classroom space. Dr. Adeeb says this will add 80,000 sq. ft., bringing the center’s size to almost 400,000 sq. ft. With the expansion, she notes, will come additional security needs.

Ties access, monitoring together

The building is protected by an IR Geoffrey system that controls access at critical locations with card readers, as well as managing security video and door position monitoring. In addition to exterior doors, the system secures a tunnel gate, a remnant of the former mall, where authorized staff members and vehicles can enter.

Although one of the system’s main functions is to secure the building’s perimeter outside of operating hours, it also protects more sensitive areas within the facility. Sergeant Nick Williams, of Deerwood Center’s security staff points out, “We host the Network Operations Center for the entire college, as well as the TV studio, and we’re also the backup TV station for Channel 4 emergency weather news. These are the kind of areas that you have to swipe a card to enter. We have set up a variety of security zones, and access can be limited to a confined area.” Areas that are not sensitive use a standard mechanical key system.

Sergeant Nick Williams uses his proximity card to open the gate to the underground tunnel used by staff members
Williams says the system is programmed to automatically lock the entrances after normal hours of operation and unlock them again the next morning. He explains, “After 6:00 at night, it automatically shuts down the offices, and it locks the rest of the building and areas like the computer and science labs, library and learning center after 10:00 PM when classes are finished.”

To expand the building’s security coverage, an outside security company is used to help monitor the IR Geoffrey system. Williams explains, “If an officer isn’t immediately available, we get a call from them when a motion sensor is activated. If it indicates motion inside the building, the system helps us define areas that are breached and determine whether it is a false alarm or requires a response. We can then make the decision whether we need to check it out or not.”

Motion detector above door alerts security staff or monitoring service to activity.
Some entrances are equipped with card readers that also can be programmed to require PIN codes at certain times. This is used primarily to provide better control of after-hours access when the building is locked. Matching the proper credentials to the access needs of individual faculty and staff members is a challenge in itself. Dr. Adeeb points out that the center has a small permanent faculty but also has about 120 part-time instructors in addition to temporary employees.

The security video system includes 16 cameras positioned around the building and its exterior, including the parking lot. Williams says additional cameras will be added when the parking garage is built, and existing cameras are being converted to rotate. “Right now,” he notes, “we have to aim them manually toward the doors at night and the parking lot during the day. The cameras have the capability to rotate, and one of our IT technicians is working on getting the necessary software.”

Williams says the system has been effective, with very few thefts despite the volume of electronic equipment in the building. He notes that Florida has seen a rash of thefts of overhead projectors from classrooms, apparently because they can be used to build large-screen TVs, yet such incidents have been avoided at Deerwood Center. He adds, “This being a former mall, it creates a more challenging security environment than a traditional school, which would have doors from the classrooms all exiting into a hallway. We’ve set up the exit doors, so people can’t get back in except through the main entrances once they leave.”