Feature Article - October 2005
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Shed Some Light

How to avoid making costly mistakes when it comes to sports field lighting

By Kyle Ryan


Replacing them can be a tricky process. First of all, the light fixtures sit atop poles that can range from 20 feet upward of 100 feet, depending on the facility. Getting up there can create problems, as Dave Postlethwait of the Knight's Play Golf Course in Raleigh, N.C., discovered. It's not so much the 400 or so lamps that illuminate his 27-hole golf course that create problems; it's the ones sitting atop 75-foot poles facing out onto the driving range.

"I would never do that again, no way," Postlethwait says. Changing the lamps requires a special piece of equipment, he says, which is not only costly but bulky and has a habit of tearing up the ground beneath it.

"It's expensive…I'm just saying it might be a wonderful look, and it might look like you're the best and greatest, right? [But] I would add a few more poles and put the 50-footers instead of the 75-footers."

Complicating matters are the chemicals that make metal halide lamps so great—namely, mercury. When it comes to pollutants, mercury is practically Public Enemy Number One, and metal halide lamps are loaded with it. They can't simply be tossed in the trash. Some places buy special bulb-crushing machines that seal the refuse into drums. Others recycle the lamps. Good recommends taking a hands-off approach by letting an electrical contractor handle it.

"They'll have the lift trucks to get up to the fixtures, so you don't have to rent that," he says. "They have good relationships with electrical distributors; they get better pricing, probably, than you or I could just going down to the distributors to buy a lamp. They can come out replace it all for you and dispose of the lamps for you, and you don't have to worry about a thing."

If it sounds pricier than the do-it-yourself option, it is, but Good thinks facilities actually may save money over time doing it that way. There will be no need to rent a truck or cherry-picker to reach the fixtures, disposal costs are built-in, and the costs of the lamps themselves may be less.

"As odd as it sounds, that's probably going to be the least expensive long-term solution," Good says.

When Okoboji High School in Okoboji, Iowa, installed a new lighting system at its softball field, school Superintendent Bob Miller made sure long-term maintenance wouldn't create headaches down the road.

"We didn't want to have to put in a less expensive model and then within eight to 10 years start looking for bulbs and so forth," Miller says. "The lights have a 10-year warranty on them, and after 10 years, they come and replace the lights at no cost anyhow. We're guaranteed 20 years of perfect lighting on our softball field."

Those types of maintenance agreements for larger installations may cost more at the front end of a project, but they can save money, not to mention hassle, as time passes.

"There are a lot of systems out there that are maintained by the manufacturer," Good says. "When you buy the system, ask for their maintenance agreement, and they'll actually come out for 10 years and just maintain it for you: guarantee that you have the light levels, guarantee that everything works. And if you have a problem, you call them. They bring out their equipment and people that will access lights that are 100 feet up in the air, and you don't have to send, you know, your poor maintenance guy up a 100-foot pole."