Boca Raton's Lynn University making wireless upgrades before hosting presidential debate

BOCA RATON —

Oct. 22, the day of the final presidential debate, will be Lynn University's Cinderella moment. But don't forget how hard Cinderella had to work before the big night.

The small private school expects as many as 70 million TV viewers for the foreign policy debate at the Wold Performing Arts Center. There will be approximately 2,500 media members on campus, Lynn officials estimate. With 2,100 students, that means that for a few days, Lynn's population will have doubled. Six broadcast and cable networks will set up studios inside Wold.

Oh, and journalists and other guests have to be fed.

"It's a wild ride," said Jason Walton, Lynn's chief of staff, one of the people responsible for making the debate happen.

The boss of the operation is the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonprofit group that has been producing presidential debates since 1987.

Four sites were announced on Oct. 31, with Lynn getting the privileged position of final debate site and the key topic of foreign affairs. The other three sites are the University of Denver; Centre College in Danville, Ky.; and Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. The debate at Centre College will be the only matchup of the vice presidential candidates.

The commission visited several times, wielding tape measures and checking parking arrangements for super-size broadcast trucks, in what Walton described as a "sustained courtship."

"There was never any point when I said, ‘We've got this in the bag,' " he said.

In 2010, Lynn officials tried unsuccessfully to lure the Florida gubernatorial debate to their new Wold center.

"We were crestfallen, but then we got the (congressional) District 22 debate, Ron Klein and Allen West," Walton said. "That was getting a lot of attention nationally. It was a powerful illustration of what you could do here. That pushed us to pitch the horseshoe and go for a bigger debate. We said, ‘Man, I wonder if we could do it?' It turned out to be an amazing sort of beginner's luck."

Lynn submitted its application in March 2011.

With 752 seats, Wold will provide the intimate atmosphere the last debate needs, since the two candidates will be sitting at a table with a moderator.

Among the school's many tasks: Provide a fully wired media filing center for the journalists, feed the journalists, build broadcast centers for six national television news operations, manage traffic and check credentials.

The total cost for Lynn is expected to be about $4.5 million, but some of that is to be provided as donated or promotional services. For example, the university can get up to $150,000 reimbursed by Palm Beach County for anything that promotes the county. So, for example, visiting journalists will have Palm Beach County talking points as part of their media kits.

Anheuser-Busch, the debate commission's official food provider, will prepare three meals a day for several days leading up to the event.

The newly refurbished Lynn entrance is on schedule to be ready for the return of students the week of Aug. 20. The stretch of Military Trail closest to Lynn is being widened, and another entrance is being added on Potomac Road on the south side of the campus.

"All the details need to be flawless," said Greg Malfitano, Lynn's senior vice president of administration.

Chris Boniforti, Lynn's chief information officer, is in charge of adding password-protected wireless Internet access anywhere on campus, 1,500 land lines, printer connections and other technological needs.

"If we've done a great job, nobody will know," Boniforti said. "But we're used to that."

Some of the services will be provided as in-kind donations by companies such as Cisco Systems.

The whole operation is to be separate from the university's existing telecommunications

"They told us to be ready to construct a small telecommunications center out of your back parking lot," Boniforti said. "There will be 3,000 to 5,000 new people here, all carrying cellphones."

The one cellular antenna in the vicinity will be augmented by a truck with a 30-foot antenna. There also will be 100 wireless hot spots on campus.

In late August, technicians will start laying the 70 miles of cable needed by broadcasters, photographers and videographers. Many of the electronic changes will stay, including the improvements to wireless connectivity on campus. And keeping the event as green as possible, some fiber optic cable can be reused and other components, such as copper, can be recycled.

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