South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a town of about 21,000 residents, led by the “progressive” Mayor Erik Brooks, who is “always looking for areas of improvement,” according to Fire Chief Joe Knitter. One way the town about 15 minutes south of Milwaukee has done that recently is in its lighting upgrades.
About a year ago, it completed an update of one-for-one replacements of high-pressure sodium, metal halide and fluorescent lighting, which were replaced with LED bulbs and luminaires.
South Milwaukee’s lighting upgrades improve safety and save money - watch this short video:
Facilities that received lighting upgrades include the city’s wastewater, water, fire and streets departments, as well as city hall, the public library and the self-deposit station.
Jim Shelenske, city clerk, says the city was looking to save energy costs, lessen energy consumption and improve the lighting quality to ensure safer conditions.
“By bringing our city’s lighting into the 21st century, we are making these buildings and exterior areas safer and improving employees’ productivity,” Shelenske says. “The new lights will provide more reliability and improve nighttime visibility, giving the community a greater sense of safety.”
Initially, Knitter was looking to provide more lighting to the fire department’s dimly lit and secluded rear yard. After installing two LED yard lights, the increase in safety convinced him this was the solution.
(Photos: South Milwaukee Police Station: Before (left) - dark shadows and poor illumination made police vehicles susceptible to vandalism. After (right) - LED upgrade improves security when visiting after dark. Credit: Optec LED Lighting)
“I had never really experienced LED lighting with the exception of a lightbulb in a residential setting,” he explains. “Once I saw how well it worked out there … the two lights out back pushed my interest.”
The benefits to more light and a safer environment outside can be obvious and noted right away, but even inside became safer with better lighting.
“Safety was improved on the inside because the lighting that was installed – especially on our apparatus floor, the big garage where we park the fire trucks and ambulances – was 35-plus-year-old fluorescent lighting mounted 15 to 18 feet in the air,” Knitter explains. “Not only did it cast a lot of shadows for dead or dim spots on the apparatus floor, but then because of the age of the fixtures, we were starting to replace the ballast, bulbs and other parts.”
Related: How to Manage Your First Lighting Retrofit
This meant crew members were working in areas that were often in the shadows and climbing a 16-foot stepladder and replacing parts high up, creating another safety concern.
Shelenske noted that while safety was improved once installed, they noticed other benefits: LED light savings. There were reductions to energy consumption and costs and lower maintenance. On the apparatus floor, for example, lights are on 24/7/365, so this makes a difference.
LED Upgrade Makes Financial Sense
“Savings realized from the reduction in energy use inspired the municipality to invest in a total LED retrofit when the time was right,” Shelenske says. He talked with the mayor about converting all of the lighting in the city’s municipal buildings to LED.
Shelenske approached Optec LED Lighting to assist with improving lighting. Alongside the city’s facility custodian, they surveyed the city’s needs, counting every lamp and fixture to assess the scope of the project. Optec made recommendations for improvements and the best way to proceed.
(Photos: South Milwaukee Streets Department Garage: Before (left) - dark shadows made it difficult for technicians check the trucks’ fluids. After (right) - Streets Department superintendent credits the LED lighting upgrade with improved safety and productivity. Credit: Optec LED Lighting)
The entire project of seven buildings took about one year to complete. The upgrade is on track to pay off the anticipated return on investment in as little as 1.5 years.
“Not being a lighting expert, it was great having someone know what would work best,” Shelenske says. “The guidance and having a lighting representative was helpful. [Optec] did the research and provided recommendations. It worked out very well.”
Beyond energy savings, the city of South Milwaukee received a Focus on Energy incentive refund of $10,329 for the upgrades.
With that savings, the city purchased additional lights for signage and other outdoor lights that weren’t part of the original plan while staying under the original budget.
Reasons to Upgrade Lighting to LED
The expected cost savings are often what initially gets people to consider LED lighting. In the case of a government like the city of South Milwaukee, they have to also consider how to spend taxpayer money wisely and save money, being as efficient as possible – in this case with both money and energy.
With a city goal of saving on energy costs and lowering consumption, LED was a clear solution.
Knitter encourages anyone thinking about installing LED, or wondering if it’s worth it, to visit somewhere that has installed LED lights firsthand.
“We can predict cost savings, but we can’t immediately see the benefits of the lights; we noticed it right away on our floor,” he says. “Go experience it once. We were sold right away.”
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