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Violent Storms, Not Wilder, Zap Computers

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The latest proof is brought to you by a unique partnership between Richmond Public Schools and the violent thunderstorms that unloaded on the region July 7 and 8.

Last summer, the school administration moved its computer data center from the 15th floor of City Hall to the Richmond Technical Center, setting up an inadvertent long-term research project into the effects of placing a mass of computers in a low-lying room inside a low-lying building with minimal fire and electrical malfunction protections.

Calling Mr. Science.

Some School Board members later blasted the move for its nearly $700,000 price tag, which became the subject of an internal investigation and a city auditor's report. It was part of a series of complex behind-the-scenes machinations ramping up to the attempted eviction of schools from City Hall Sept. 21.

An e-mail sent last week by the school district's technical services department explained the data center shutdown, which cut e-mail and other computer access to all school employees: "Due to recent storms, the Data Center at the Richmond Technical Center is experiencing electrical problems. Though we are making adjustments to avoid future impact, the storms of this week have not been favorable for the Data Center."

The system was down for nearly a week. A school spokesman says the damage was unrelated to water infiltration in the room, instead chalking it up to a power surge that damaged equipment. In data center design, surge protection is part of the purpose of creating a special environment for housing computer servers. In the recent storms, the surge protection didn't work as planned.
It's unclear how much damage was done.

Moving the center in the first place remains a bone of contention. An audit released last month by City Auditor Umesh Dalal called the move a waste of money. The report also indicated that remediation of the room to bring it up to data center standards would cost an additional $40,000.

Dalal wasn't the only critic of the move. Shortly after the move was revealed to the School Board, board members questioned, among other things, its legality and its expense.

"If they'd done it right the first time A.,ªÝ it would have been aboveground and done right," School Board member Carol A.O. Wolf says. "This is what happens when you do something trying to duck proper oversight. How much is this going to cost? Add it to the tally."

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