Lighting: Bright Upgrades

The Ponds of Brookfield Ice Arena in Brookfield, Wis.

By Dawn Klingensmith

The coach sounded antsy for Robert Perry to set the stage for a serious hockey match. "Hey!" he called to Perry. "Can you turn the lights on?"

Perry, owner of the Ponds of Brookfield Ice Arena in Brookfield, Wis., took note of the time. "You don't go on for another 30 minutes," he called back.

Even so, in the coach's mind, it was time to flip the switch. That's because the metal halide lamps that the arena's architect specified when the rink was built required a 25-minute warm-up period to produce its full light capacity.

But unbeknownst to the coach, something akin to Day One in the biblical "Genesis" account would soon take place. Perry waited until just before game time to switch on the lamps, and though he did not proclaim, "Let there be light," the effect was dramatic and seemingly miraculous.

Perry had replaced the metal halide lamps with energy-efficient fluorescent lighting that fully illuminated the rink at the flip of a switch.

Perry visited several facilities and researched several companies before upgrading to fluorescent lighting, against the advice of the building's architect, who felt the technology was ill-suited for an ice rink application. The perceived obstacles were the considerable distance between the light source and the ice and the fact that fluorescent lights "generally like a warmer temperature" for optimal functionality, Perry said.

"The architect's main concern was that the temperature in an ice arena would not be conducive to getting the best performance from the fluorescents," he added, "but I am here to tell you, he was wrong, wrong, wrong."

A year after installation, in his capacity as president of the Wisconsin Ice Arena Managers Association, Perry became a self-described "evangelist" urging other rinks to get rid of metal halides and replace them with fluorescents.

One issue Perry had with metal halides was the annual cost of replacing bulbs. Every year, he switched out all 66 bulbs over the rink at a cost of $32 each. (Add in lift rental and labor, and the average cost per bulb was about $55 vs. $4 to $6 for each T8 fluorescent bulb.) Had Perry not replaced the bulbs all at once, there would have been patches of brighter and dimmer light on the ice, presenting a safety hazard to skaters.

The old fixtures also "were generating a lot of heat and fighting his refrigerating equipment," said Art Foss of Current Electric Co., the Brookfield-based company that supplied the ice arena's new fluorescent lighting, manufactured by Orion Energy Systems, Manitowoc, Wis.

Orion's fluorescent fixtures feature several energy-conserving, proprietary components such as aluminum frames, which dissipate heat more efficiently than traditionally used steel. The fixtures also have built-in heat ventilators and patented "roll-form reflectors," parabolic in shape, that wrap around the bulbs to efficiently harvest light and cast it right where it is needed.

Perry initially shared the architect's concern that fluorescent lighting might be too diffused by the time it reached the ice, but the roll-form reflector laid those concerns to rest. "The entire ice sheet is bathed in constant, consistent lighting," he said.

Orion guarantees its fixtures will increase light levels and quality while reducing energy costs. Typically, customers slash energy consumption by 50 percent or more, and the resulting savings usually offset the cost of the fixtures in two or three years, according to Linda Diedrich, Orion's director of corporate communications. And for organizations that are hesitant or unable to invest in the technology up front, Orion offers a capital-free payment plan.

Yet, despite these virtues, had Perry gone with his gut reaction when the project was under way, the Orion lighting system would not be in place. During installation, Perry saw a side-by-side comparison of the new fluorescents vs. the metal halides as the new fixtures began to replace the old ones a bank at a time. "I thought, 'This is not good.' The new lights seemed way too bright. I thought, 'Someone's going to complain.' The difference was startling." Perry recalled. About halfway through the retrofit, he nearly ordered the crew to stop. But he resisted the urge and is thrilled with the results.

"I wanted natural, easy light on the eyes, and they nailed it," he said.

The comfort and safety of his hockey players was Perry's principal concern—so much so that while he was researching lighting options, he brought along to several ice rinks a collection of hockey helmets with half and full-face plastic shields to see how various types of lighting appeared through different face guards. But the secondary payoffs have been gratifying. Since the upgrade, "I have had photographers and videographers thank me," he said, "because game pictures are clearer and brighter."

For the record, The Ponds of Brookfield has seen a 15 percent reduction in energy costs, which is less than Orion's average customer. But an ice arena presents some unique challenges, and The Ponds of Brookfield is a pioneer in employing fluorescent lighting in such a facility.

The lighting is not the only thing that makes the 12-year-old ice arena unique. Because of its location on a parcel of green space encompassing wetlands and other wildlife habitat, the city of Brookfield imposed some costly but worthwhile requirements, including landscaped berms on each end of the building. The berms prevent the arena from looking like "a big, out-of-place rectangular building," Perry said.

Embracing the concept of "fitting in," the arena includes a mezzanine level with floor-to-ceiling windows, which connects the interior with its natural surroundings and allows natural sunlight to pour in.

"It overlooks a field where deer and coyotes run," Perry said.

"A 38,000-square-foot building out in the middle of a field could easily look out of place," he added, "but I don't think we do. I think we fit in pretty well. Turkeys walk right up to the doors. Everyone thinks it's kind of cool."

Before The Ponds of Brookfield was built, "We repeatedly heard from our neighbors in the planning phase that they wanted us to be sensitive to the surrounding nature," Perry said.

So, it's fitting that a decade later the arena would take the lead in installing earth-friendly, fluorescent lighting and then "evangelize" to other ice rinks that such a move benefits the environment, player performance and overall patron satisfaction, not to mention the bottom line.


The Ponds of Brookfield:

Orion Energy Systems:

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