Feature Article - April 2002
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Some Light Reading

Designing the best lighting for a sports field doesn’t have to be a battle or cost a bundle

By Stacy St. Clair

In the beginning, it was proclaimed,

"Let there be light."

The NIMBY Bible, if there were such thing, would almost certainly expound upon that directive. With steely resolve and the threat of a possible lawsuit, it would declare: "Let there be light, so long as it doesn't disrupt my sleep, damage my quality of life or lower my property values."

Therein lies one of the most exacerbating problems for outdoor facility managers today. Lighting fields has become a tricky balancing act, in which the needs of the players and concerns of neighbors threaten to topple multimillion-dollar projects.

PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates

No better example exists than Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Conn. The New York Yankees farm team broke ground on the $9.3-million facility in November 1994. Though supporters heralded its construction as an economic boon for the community, residents of some nearby homes gave the plan an icy reception. They complained about light spilling into their houses and destroying the tranquility they once enjoyed. Disgruntled neighbors leaned heavily on an ambiguous local law that declared any objectionable light illegal.

The team was forced to redesign the lighting after the 6,270-seat stadium's groundbreaking. The result was a less-than-desirable lighting scheme that still upsets people involved with the field's original design eight years later. One lighting designer goes so far as to say the stadium went from "one of the best lit stadiums in the Eastern League to one of the worst."

While it's easy to blame NIMBYists (Not In My Back Yard) for interfering with progress, their complaints often have some legitimacy. The recreation industry, trying to meet the demands of growing sports leagues and patron expectations, are illuminating more parks than ever before. Field lighting, without question, is contributing to a nationwide light-pollution problem.

Pac Bell Park, home of the San Francisco Giants

Before the guilt overwhelms you, there is still a chance for redemption. And achieving it has never been easier. The vast majority of the industry's outdoor lighting suppliers all have systems that reduce spill, glare and sky glow—the three cardinal sins of the illumination world.

If a clear conscience and happy neighbors aren't enough to convince you to travel the less-polluting path, consider this: An offensive lighting system is no cheaper than an environmentally friendly one. In fact, a well-designed system will probably save you money because all the light you pay for will be directed onto fields and not into nearby houses. Poorly designed lighting, meanwhile, wastes an estimated $2 billion per year in the United States alone, according to government statistics.