Ave Maria University, located in southwest Florida, opened its doors to students on Aug. 27, 2007. It is the first new Catholic university built in the United States in more than 40 years and is among the worlds’ most technologically advanced, thanks to the vision of its founder and design team. By employing Johnson Controls, a leader in technology contracting, and Cisco, a leader in Internet Protocol (IP)-based networking systems and advanced technologies, Ave Maria successfully converged 23 systems, from information technology (IT) to facility operations, on a single Internet IP network.

The university is the product of founder and chancellor Thomas S. Monaghan’s dream to build an institution of higher education that would be faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. After more than five years of planning and construction, and four years of operating from a temporary campus in Naples, the university made its permanent home on a 908-acre campus in a new town named just for it - Ave Maria, Fla. The campus has 500,000 square feet of facilities, serving nearly 500 students and 200 faculty and staff, and plenty of room to grow.

Bryan Mehaffey, vice president of technology and systems engineering, had a unique vision for Ave Maria’s technology division. He sought to incorporate IT operations and facility operations into one group, and to combine the university’s IT infrastructure, fire, security, HVAC, and building control systems on a common platform.

To Mehaffey, converging these technologies made sense from both a construction and ongoing operations standpoint. “We learned quickly though that this was an approach most architects and engineers were not accustomed to,” said Mehaffey. “With that in mind, we developed our specification and looked for partners who could handle the required amount of technology. Johnson Controls and Cisco understood our vision and, together, provided a solution that allowed us to achieve it.”

An open data protocol allowed disparate systems to be installed on the same infrastructure.


Unlike traditional contracting with multiple subcontractors installing separate proprietary systems, technology contracting involves appointing responsibility for planning, designing, installing, integrating, commissioning, and servicing technology systems throughout an enterprise to a single, qualified party. The responsibility extends to all low-voltage systems such as fire, security, HVAC and building automation, lighting, communication, and specialty systems.

As Ave Maria’s technology contractor, Johnson Controls oversaw the design and installation of a Cisco IP backbone, as well as all the technology that resides on the network. LonMark, an open data protocol, allowed equipment from various vendors to be installed and integrated on the same infrastructure. As a result, unnecessary networks and cabling were avoided. And, since any vendor or contractor can introduce new equipment and functionality to the infrastructure, Ave Maria’s campus is future ready.

“My idea of an intelligent building is one that not only meets your immediate expectations but can embrace future technologies as they are developed. And that’s what Johnson Controls and Cisco has helped us create,” said Mehaffey.

Cisco deployed its end-to-end intelligent information network, from the optical network connecting the campus and town buildings, to the switches and wireless access points in each building, up to the IP phones on desks and in study rooms. The network can also extend into the nearby town of Ave Maria, giving store owners and restaurants the option to easily connect their store systems for high-speed data transfer, voice, or Internet access across Ave Maria’s IP-based network. With the advanced Cisco intelligent information network, the town’s businesses also have the opportunity to implement advanced capabilities available on the Cisco Human Network, from visual communications such as TelePresence, to Unified Communications for enhanced collaboration, to mobility for anywhere, anytime access.

All of the 23 facility and IT systems on campus are managed from the network operations center.


Unlike most traditional building designs that include redundant wiring and cabling for each proprietary system, lighting, cooling, building access, fire protection, TV or Internet cabling, or twisted pair phone wire, Cisco installed a single IP-based network. All systems, devices, and sensors interface to the IP network, reducing installation capital expense and enhancing visibility and collaboration between these systems. “By doing this, we have created a new paradigm for design and integration of building and communication systems. It provides us the opportunity to dramatically lower costs, improve services, and drive productivity increases on almost every level,” stated Mehaffey.

All of the systems on campus are managed from the network operations center. Operators use the Johnson Controls Metasys® building management system to monitor, control and largely automate the campus’s chiller plant, heating and cooling, indoor air quality, laboratory airflow, lighting and lavatories. The system is also responsible for power management and asset tracking. Other systems monitored from the center include Internet, e-mail, fire panels, digital video monitoring, and security and access control via the Johnson Controls P2000 system. And, because all the systems are Web-enabled, operators can monitor and control them from their Cisco IP phones.

The integration and interfacing of systems at Ave Maria make it exceptionally comfortable and safe. The Metasys system allows operators to react to temperature fluctuations and make HVAC equipment adjustments with a click of a mouse. Integrated occupancy sensors activate lighting in rooms and lecture halls and airflow adjustments as needed.

Integration benefits fire and life safety as well. If the fire alarm systems detect a fire, Metasys signals the HVAC system to stop delivering fresh air to the area and pressurizes the exit path, clearing it of smoke. At the same time, IP phone calls can be automatically generated to the fire department as well as to the faculty, students, and staff. This can all occur within seconds, helping to save lives and limit property destruction. The access control system will unlock doors along the route, and train surveillance cameras on the fire to give responders a live feed.

“The level of technology on this campus is important to Ave Maria’s reputation and our ability to deliver a high quality, safe academic environment to our students,” said John Sites, vice president for academic affairs. “But it’s also something students and faculty don’t think about and that’s a good thing because it means they are focused on teaching and learning, instead of their comfort or safety.”

Additional security features include biometric readers for an additional layer of identity verification at data centers. Code Blue stations are scattered throughout campus and surveillance cameras are trained on them whenever they are used.

“Because of the integration and interfacing we’ve done, we were also able to implement a One Card system in less than three weeks time. And it’s been our biggest hit with the students,” said Mehaffey. The One Card gives students, faculty, and staff individually tailored access to dormitories and academic buildings, including laboratories and computer rooms. It also acts as a library card and debit card for the cafeteria, bookstore, copying, and printing.


Compared to traditional designs, the university projects savings of $350,000 annually in staffing costs and another $600,000 annually from reduced utility costs. Approximately $1.5 million in first costs were saved by eliminating the redundant wiring and cabling of multiple isolated building systems.

“We manage the entire campus operations - facility systems and IT systems - with just seven full-time employees, which is pretty lean when you consider the alternative of as many as 24 people to manage those same entities,” said Mehaffey. “The fact that we are operating more efficiently means that we are able to apply more resources to educating students, which is really what we are all about as a university,” added Paul Roney, chief financial officer for Ave Maria.

With the Cisco unified design providing the intelligent network infrastructure, Ave Maria can track energy costs on a granular level, enabling it to closely analyze consumption and the utility’s supply, or oversupply, in detail. Mehaffey recalled an enormous power surge that occurred during construction that melted a transformer. “I did not know what had caused the melting at the time it happened. However, by accessing the power management system I learned that there had been 641 power spikes over a set period. I also determined where the spikes happened, the voltage level, and their duration, and was able to go back to the utility with this detailed information and request compensation.”

With Johnson Controls’ technology contracting and Cisco’s intelligent information network and advanced, unified communication systems, Mehaffey’s unique vision for Ave Maria’s technology division was seen through while Monaghan’s dream to build a Catholic university was fulfilled. “We’re looking to build enrollment to 5,500 students in the next 20 years with an average SAT score of 1400. Sort of a Catholic Ivy League university,” said Monaghan. “Technology will help by giving us a competitive edge.”

For more information, visit www.johnsoncontrols.com.

Publication date:05/18/2009