Feature Article - November 2009
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Audio & Illumination

Space-Specific, Sport-Specific

By Dawn Klingensmith

Tackling Structural Defects After the Fact

According to an August article in the Austin American Statesman, huge athletic field lighting poles have been crashing to the ground without warning in school districts across Texas, and in one particularly hard-hit district in Kansas, where in 2001 a tornado toppled all four poles at the Hoisington United School District's football and track stadium. Two years later, during a track meet, one of the stadium's replacement poles toppled. Fortunately, the 80-foot pole fell away from the packed bleachers and onto the school roof, so no one was injured. The remaining poles were removed after an inspection revealed cracks in all three of them, and the district replaced them with poles made by the same manufacturer.

Then, in May 2005, school maintenance crews saw a sizeable crack in one of the poles and removed it immediately for fear it would topple. The remaining three poles also were removed, and all were found to be cracked at the base.

Such poles are generally expected to last decades, but all of the cracked or fallen ones were less than 10 years old, according to news reports. School districts, colleges and a couple of minor league teams reportedly have removed more than 100 poles, all made by the same company, that were found to be at risk of falling.

Rapid vibrations from light winds, repeated exposure to heavy winds, or poor design could all be the cause of the poles' premature failure.

Structural integrity is critical. Even well-designed poles can present hazards if facilities cut corners during their installation as a money-saving measure.