Burlingame working on pricey phone upgrade 

A reliable phone system is a must at City Hall, but officials say the one they have is giving them a ringing headache.

City staffers say they sometimes can’t pick up voicemail from the city’s 12-year-old phone system. In more serious cases, the phones go dead entirely. And these problems have persisted for years. In one episode a few years ago, the corporation yard was phoneless for three days.

The city is preparing to spend $1.7 million to upgrade the phones at more than a dozen city buildings to a high-tech digital system in which phone calls are made over the Internet.

“For local government, telephones are very important,” said Finance Director Jesus Nava, who said the phone system typically has problems once or twice a month. “We’ve waited and we’ve waited, buying parts over on eBay and surplus houses. It’s just an old clunker that’s got to go.”

The city hired Fremont-based consulting firm Teladata last week for $287,000 to analyze the city’s needs, run a bid process for the new equipment and manage the installation, which Nava hopes will be done by the end of 2011.

Teladata recommended that the city go with a Voice Over Internet Protocol system, which will likely require installation of fiber-optic cables and other upgrades to its data network.

Nava acknowledged that the price tag might seem high, “but when you go through the details of all the work, there’s actually more that can be done. These are the essentials.”

He noted the city has spent about $165,000 on repairs and maintenance since 2006. Finding parts to fix the current system has also become increasingly difficult because the manufacturer went bankrupt in 2005.

Connecting more than a dozen city buildings, including fire stations and the corporation yard, is not as easy as replacing your grandmother’s 1950s rotary phone, said Vice Mayor Jerry Deal.

“We would be at the mercy of some phone company who would tell us whatever we wanted to hear,” Deal said.

“Communication is what we’re all about, so when people can’t get ahold of you or leave messages, it gets disturbing.”

Upgrading the data network will also bring some features the current system lacks such as teleconferencing and advanced call forwarding.

Asked whether residents will notice anything different after the switchover, Nava said, “Hopefully that the phones work.”

Breaking down the costs

$1,339,559: Required equipment and improvements
$175,000: Recommended re-cabling of city facilities
$140,000: Recommended fiber and conduit facilities
$60,000: Universal power supply costs
$1.7 million: Total

Source: City of Burlingame

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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Shaun Bishop

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