Let Sport Lights Shine Bright

By Randy Gaddo
Photo Courtesy of Hubbell Lighting

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.


Sports-field lighting, from design and purchase to installation, operation, and maintenance, is arguably one of the largest consumers in parks and rec department budgets.

Increased demand for use of limited sports-field space has led to more night practices and games for adult and youth leagues, and even after-dark special events. Thus, sport lights are burning longer and, unless carefully monitored, participants aren’t always the most conscientious when it comes to prudent use.

Glaring Issues
Additionally, more parks and rec departments are facing “encroachment.” Encroachment is the emerging urbanization around a sports facility that was originally built in the middle of a cow pasture. So high-intensity sports lighting on 80-foot poles now draws complaints.

“It seems some of the more exclusive neighborhoods are built on the outskirts of town, where sports facilities have already been in use for years,” notes Heather Johnson, chairperson of the Sports Lighting Committee of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES) ( www.ies.org ).

“Those homeowners want to be able to see the night sky; they don’t want light coming into their bedroom windows, and they are more apt to speak up if it does,” she observes after working with sport and other lighting applications for more than 30 years.

Light pollution can also be a safety issue if a facility is visible to traffic lanes.  Terms such as “light spill” and “glare” must now become standard in the parks and rec lexicon. “You will never totally eliminate light spill and glare,” Johnson emphasizes. “These are very subjective terms.  What is glare to one person may be OK with another.”

“Parks and schools by their very nature are usually located in the midst of residential communities, where the outdoor lighting, if inadequately designed, can have a serious impact on the surrounding residents,” outlines a July 2010 report by the Fairfax County Park Authority in Virginia. (https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/sites/parks/files/assets/documents/plandev/athletic_field_lighting_draft0710.pdf). The report notes that the county follows IES recommendations.

The report is an excellent resource, a quick read that defines sport lighting terminology and issues, including glare and associated “source intensity.”

“There are many ways to reduce source intensity as viewed by local residents and still meet the required on-field lighting requirements,” the report notes, adding that shielding, reflectors, wattages, beam types, mounting height, and aiming angles all impact the source intensity and are key considerations in reducing glare.

In 2001, IES produced a detailed publication about all aspects of lighting various types of facilities, from churches to sports fields. The RP-6 (Recommended Practice) is currently in revision to account for new light-emitting diode (LED) technology, which hasn’t become a factor in sports lighting yet, but undoubtedly will someday. The current volume is available for a cost on the IES website.

Replace Sufficient With Efficient
In recent years, the sport-light industry has begun to use products that offer fewer, more focused, and efficient light fixtures and attachments that consume less power, direct the light exactly where it is needed, and provide safe, well-lit fields.

According to Jason Briggs, lead developmental manager at Musco Lighting, substandard sports-field lighting results in “concern for player safety, less light on the field, and more light where it’s not wanted. Labor and equipment costs to correct this can be significant.”

Briggs also notes that it is more efficient to “group” re-lamp rather than to replace individual bulbs as they burn out.  Group re-lamping involves replacing entire sectors of light fixtures as they reach the end of their life cycle, rather than waiting for them to burn out.

“As public concern over energy conservation grows, many cities and organizations are implementing automated-lighting control systems to turn their lights on and off,” asserts Briggs. Automated, computer-controlled systems are more reliable than timers and better at accommodating last-minute changes or rainouts. Operating a lighting system only when needed saves substantial energy dollars over time, especially for multiple fields.

The transition from older lighting systems to the newer “sustainable green” systems has begun, but there are still many departments that have not been able to make the jump to new millennium lighting—largely because of smaller staffs and budgets. One official from a major sport-lighting company estimated that, based on his experience, perhaps half of parks departments have gone to newer systems.

With thousands of these departments burning tens of thousands of sports lights, that is still an unfathomable amount of energy use, and preserving even a small percentage would represent a large savings in both money and power.

“A lot of sports-field managers think they don’t have enough lamps if the light levels aren’t good,” says Johnson, who also works at Hubbell Lighting. “But if they are only replacing lamps that burn out, the entire system may only be operating at 60 percent of the total potential. It is better to totally re-lamp, or, at the very least, ensure that each time you replace lamps, you clean and re-aim the entire system.”

Cleaning and re-aiming may be easy and less-expensive fixes to lighting issues. Outdoor bulbs get dirty and simply cleaning the film off the lens can greatly increase output. High winds and other elements cause fixtures to become misaligned, even though they may look all right from the ground.

Making The Switch
Regardless of how well-maintained a sport-field lighting system is, there comes a time when a parks department has to look at upgrading. A systematic approach is best. The project manager in charge of the upgrade has to ask the right questions, find the right resources, and be able to make studied recommendations.

Briggs provides suggestions that can help a maintenance manager prepare for an upgrade:

Know what to look for when purchasing asport-lighting system. In evaluating a lighting system that will perform effectively over the next 20 to 30 years, consider the importance of accountability from the supplier. Buyers who expect a system to provide trouble-free lighting should require the equipment supplier to meet a set of warranty criteria, which includes a written guarantee, a proven commitment to maintenance, and support after the sale.

Seek good service. Partnering with a sport-lighting manufacturer that stands behind its products with good service will make a substantial difference in an organization’s long-term satisfaction. You are making the investment; therefore, you are in a position to develop the criteria that each manufacturer must meet, especially in a competitive-bid process.

Following these three key guidelines will help establish a supplier’s level of commitment:

1. Ask for a written guarantee. Manufacturers can provide a written performance guarantee that the entire system—from the foundation to the light fixtures—will meet the specifications you established. Receiving this guarantee from a single source can eliminate the headache of sorting out responsibility among multiple manufacturers or separate installation and service contractors, should a problem occur.

2. Compare warranties. The warranty reflects a manufacturer’s confidence in the product. Some manufacturers’ warranties include routine maintenance and provide longer coverage based on their confidence in the product’s performance.

3. Evaluate the service reputation. Ask for project references, and review the manufacturer’s service record. Determine if there are dedicated warranty and field-service personnel in your area. Find out if there will be an on-site field-performance evaluation after the installation.

Define Maintenance
Routine maintenance and unexpected repair costs can really impact a budget if a system is not well-designed from an electrical and structural standpoint. Since no one wants the surprise of finding that the maintenance assumptions were actually exclusions, take the time upfront to define a warranty’s maintenance and repair-interval terms. Consider these critical warranty-maintenance factors:

· Constant light levels - Specify the actual amount of light one can expect on the field at any given time over the life of the system, who will perform this evaluation, and how frequently.

· Re-aiming - Look for guaranteed fixture alignment. Over time, lighting can become misaligned, resulting in concern for player safety, less light on the field, and more light where it’s not wanted. Labor and equipment costs to correct this can be significant.

· Re-lamping - It’s more efficient to “group” re-lamp rather than perform “spot” re-lamping by replacing lamps as they burn out. To avoid inefficiencies, require group re-lamping prior to the end of the rated lamp life.

· Parts and labor - Comprehensive warranties cover parts and labor for the full life of a system. This is critical since the combined cost of a lamp, fuses, labor, and the potential rental of equipment to reach a pole top can easily exceed $200 for a single fixture burnout.

Money is the bottom line and can often be the show-stopper for a system upgrade. However, many reputable lighting companies provide funding options that make it easier for municipal recreation departments to convince purse-string holders. In addition there may be state or federal grants available based on increased efficiency and “going green.”

If any readers have information about funding options or sources that can help others, please share it here. Contact the editor or me and we will pass it on to others who may be looking to shine their lights a little brighter.

Randy Gaddo served for 15 years as a director in municipal parks and recreation after retiring from 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He developed, wrote, administered, and presented maintenance plans as well as recreation master plans during that time. Gaddo earned his Master’s in Public Administration, and now lives in Beaufort, S.C. He can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email cwo4usmc@comcast.net .