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Aging county phone system overhauled

Robert HugginsSteve Monaghan, the county's chief information officer, displays the county's new 3COM NBX phone system.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

To keep up with advances in communication technology, Nevada County’s antiquated and failure-prone telephone system is undergoing a $500,000 overhaul.

“The reality is our phone systems are failing” at a rate of once every couple of months, said Steve Monaghan, the county’s chief information officer.



The 20-plus-year-old system includes five Saturn PBX switches tied together with a multitude of Pacific Bell phone lines and trunks, said Bill Miller, desktop services manager with the Information Systems Department.




Replacement parts are 10 years out of production and difficult to obtain, as is technical expertise to support them, Miller said.

The new 3COM NBX system is digital and combines computer and phone technology, Monaghan said, compared to the old system that uses analog technology from the 1970s.

With the Saturn system, the county had to support two sets of infrastructure – voice and data, Monaghan said.

“The new technology combines that so you only have to support one network,” he said.

Information Systems has been making the switch to the new 3COM system over the past two weeks.

The Rood Administrative Center campus – which includes the county jail, juvenile hall and library – should be hooked up to the 3COM system by Friday, Monaghan said.

Conversion of the county Health, Education and Welfare complex will come next.

“By the time we’re done, the cost will be about $500,000,” Monaghan said. “But I’m pleased with that figure because it’s less than a third of what we originally estimated.”

He said the county is getting more than $150,000 in free equipment and network support for its participation in the 3COM Beta program.

When Child Support Services moved from Rood Center to Grass Valley in January 2001, Information Systems researched the market and chose the 3COM system. In December, Monaghan said the county courthouse was also converted to the system.

Subsequently, Monaghan said Nevada County became just one of five locations in the nation selected by 3COM as a test site for its NBX system.

“They saw it as an opportunity to test the system on a large scale,” he said. “We tested the system and gave them feedback on issues or problems.”

In return, Monaghan said the county got the system hardware, help in setting up the network and dozens of hours of technical support and training for free.

Though the $500,000 price tag is sure to raise some eyebrows, Monaghan said the cost should be put into perspective.

“We’re providing new phones for over 1,000 employees,” Monaghan said. “The county can’t operate without phones; it’s a critical service.”

The county needs the tools to deliver the quality of services the public demands, he said. “The bottom line is the new system will improve the county’s efficiency and delivery of services.”

The county’s high-tech strategic plan calls for up to $10 million in computer projects and upgrades over the next five years.

Monaghan said very little money was spent on upgrades in technology during the 1990s because of Proposition 13 and other state actions that reduced property tax revenue collected by the county.

“Now we’re trying to catch up to technology,” he said.


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