Proactive Maintenance

By Mary Helen Sprecher

Many bad puns have been made about the importance of good lighting in a camp's sports facilities.

They include not being in the dark, getting turned on to the knowledge of superior facilities, having the power to make a change, and several more.

But all joking aside, lighting is one of the best investments in terms of increasing user safety (and that is a priceless commodity).

Accidents can happen. Injuries can occur. Problems can crop up. And let’s face it, not all sports facilities have employees who really keep an eye on players.

So what’s a manager to do?

Well, to rephrase a popular notion, the best defense is a good … defense. What does that mean?

Simply put, being proactive can pay off for you, your users, and your facility. What you learn may surprise you.

Spend some time examining the lighting around each facility. For example, walk the tennis court and stop at each light pole, advises Bruce Frasure of LSI Courtsider Sports Lighting in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“We have found that the most common safety issue is with light poles that have corroded over time,” says Frasure.

“The corrosion reaches a point where the poles become structurally unstable, and the chance of the lighting assembly collapsing becomes a possibility. The likelihood of this occurrence is heightened at facilities located along coastal areas where the salt-air environment is especially harsh. It is also more common at clay-court facilities where a lot of court watering takes place.

"We recommend a yearly inspection of a facility’s light poles to check for corrosion. Poles that show minor corrosion should be sanded and re-coated to prevent further damage. Poles that show severe corrosion should be replaced immediately.”

For athletic events at night, the lighting of facilities and the surrounding area is, of course, a must.

Even without night events, lighting can increase a sense of security among facility users, particularly if a facility is open 24 hours a day. And generally speaking, a well-lit area of any type is less likely to be a magnet for those who want to loiter or cause trouble after hours.

Technology can be the planner's friend, according to Mike Limpach of Musco Sports Lighting LLC, based in Oskaloosa, Iowa.

“Advanced controls that adjust for the setting of the sun on a daily basis as well are now being used to manage lighting systems,” he notes. “These are very energy-efficient.”

In addition, says Sam Fisher of Fisher Tracks Inc., in Boone, Iowa, lighting systems can be tailored to suit the needs of the specific user.

“One of the biggest questions or inquiries I am finding today is more safety- and public related. Many are asking for a lower set of light or lights that can provide enough illumination for the casual walker or jogger. This also becomes a safety issue.

"Some are actually asking if the lighting can be operated in a manner similar to systems one is used to finding on tennis courts, in which the athlete who is using the facility can actually turn the lights on and off for himself or herself. Some of these lighting systems will actually stay on for just so long until engaged again, and/or they turn off at a certain time.”

Something else to remember about lighting and safety is it's not just about on vs. off, or working vs. burned-out.

A lamp in a lighting system, when new, produces a certain amount (known as a level) of illumination. (It is at its brightest when new, in other words). Over time, the amount of light produced by the lamp decreases. This phenomenon is known as the Light Loss Factor, or LLF.

Most manufacturers count on 20- to 40-percent depreciation. Climatic conditions, dust and dirt, voltage variations, luminaire design, and the amount and quality of maintenance will affect the level of depreciation.

Rather than waiting to see if the facility's lighting system is functioning well, consider testing it periodically. Light levels are measured using a tool known as a light meter. Light meters are available fairly inexpensively at industrial supply stores.

In using the light meter:

• Hold it the correct distance from the surface of the field, court, or other facility.

• Take readings in all the essential places in the facility where athletes will play.

• Adhere to the standards set for the specific type of sport the facility will be hosting.

If you encounter variances from the standards, call a lighting contractor for recommendations.

Remember that the facility represents a huge investment of time, and is important to the camp. You want to keep it--not to mention all those who use it--as safe as possible.

Do a night walk-through every week or so. Look for lights that might be out or in dark, shadowy areas where players might feel unsafe--anything that needs fixing, really--and have the problem addressed immediately.

Keeping a safe facility--and therefore, an even more attractive one--will pay dividends in years to come.

Mary Helen Sprecher has been a technical writer for more than 20 years with the American Sports Builders Association. She has written on various topics relating to sports-facility design, construction and supply, as well as sports medicine, education, and health and industrial issues. She is an avid racquetball and squash player, and a full-time newspaper reporter in Baltimore, Md.