LEDs Transform Municipal Buildings

An extensive lighting upgrade for South Milwaukee public facilities demonstrates the benefits of LED technology.

LED lighting on the library building is a noticeable contrast in quality and color rendition when compared with the existing street lighting.

Municipal buildings are an important part of the fabric of cities and towns. Municipalities throughout the country are upgrading to LED luminaires to promote efficiency, reduce waste, conserve resources, lessen overall environmental impact, and support the health and safety of employees and residents. About three years ago, City of South Milwaukee Mayor Eric Brooks asked Jim Shelenske, South Milwaukee city clerk to head up a citywide effort to convert the city’s municipal building lighting to LED technology.

Shelenske’s initial effort was to improve lighting in the City Hall rear parking lot where police cars are parked in the open. The successful parking-lot project was followed by a recently completed conversion of all of the city’s municipal building lighting to LED fixtures. The upgrades included interior and exterior spaces at seven locations with energy-efficient replacements that are on track to deliver a return on investment in as little as 1 1/2 yr.

Facilities that received lighting upgrades include the city’s wastewater and water departments, city hall, self-deposit station, public library, fire, and streets departments. Each location was thoroughly surveyed with South Milwaukee’s facility custodian, Jason Boswell, counting every lamp and fixture to assess the scope of the retrofit and define the lighting needs for each space. In thousands of one-for-one replacements, high-pressure-sodium, metal-halide, and fluorescent fixtures were replaced with LED lamps/luminaires. The streets department received the most LED interior and exterior replacements. Luminaires and LED technology, produced by Optec LED Lighting, Ontario, CA (optecledlighting.com), were chosen for the various projects.

LED fixtures in the city’s street department facility eliminated the yellow cast from the old high-pressure-sodium lamps, making it much safer and easier for workers to perform vehicle maintenance.

Retrofit Details

The city’s water department retrofit included 120-W Type III and Type V pole-mounted area fixtures; 120-W Type III wall-mount area fixtures; and 30-W Type III surface-mount wall pack fixtures. Retrofits to city hall, the self-deposit station, public library, fire, and streets Departments included 80-W Type III and 120-W Type V pole-mounted area fixtures; 120-W Type III wall-mounted area fixtures; 40-W Type V floodlight fixtures; 120- and 160-W Type V high-bay fixtures; 40-W Type V parking-structure fixtures; 20-, 30-, and 60-W Type III surface-mount wall-pack fixtures; and 120-W Type V pendant-mount high-bay fixtures.

The wastewater/water department retrofit resulted in a 50% energy reduction from the interior lighting upgrade and a 75% savings from the exterior lighting. The total LED retrofit included 20-, 30-, and 60-W Type III surface-mount wall-pack fixtures with button photocells; 60-W Type III surface-mount wall-pack fixtures; 60-W Type V high bay pendant fixtures; 60-W Type V low-profile, surface-mount canopy fixtures; 120-W Type III square, pole-mounted fixtures; and 120-W area luminaires.

New LED fixtures in municipal parking lots transformed those spaces in to well-lit and much safer places for employees.

Lighting fire trucks

The fire department’s old lighting needed to warm up to achieve full brightness and required challenging bulb replacement at elevated heights. Both factors created safety concerns. As a result, lights were left on all night so that full illumination was always available, particularly when an emergency call was received. Fire Chief Joe Knitter was instrumental in moving the department’s retrofit project forward, ensuring the new lighting matched or exceeded existing levels and that instant-on capability was inherent in the system. Knitter immediately appreciated what improved light levels would mean for his staff when the previous, often burned out, compact-fluorescent fixtures were replaced with interior LED lamps and exterior LED luminaires.

The LED solutions deliver superior efficiency, longevity, and light output, and best of all, according to Knitter, the ability to safely back the department’s fire engines into the bays. In the fire department facility, where compact-fluorescent lights were previously left on 24/7/365, the return on investment from the LED retrofit is 1.5 years.

Streets and Books

The city’s street department facility was previously lit with high-pressure-sodium lamps that cast a yellow hue, making it impossible for employees to see intricate vehicle work, particularly while performing maintenance procedures under the truck hoods. The highly anticipated retrofit included installation of LED lighting in the main parking lot, offices, sign shop, mechanics bay, employee locker rooms, Building Two (where vehicles are parked inside), salt shed, and the Building Four salt and storage shed. Street department superintendent, Dan Ratajski, credited the LED lighting upgrade with improved safety and job performance—invaluable attributes for productivity.

The public library has also benefited from a lighting upgrade with a one-for-one replacement of the previous 14 metal-halide fixtures. The library’s eight, 75-W metal-halide flood lights in front of the building were replaced with 40-W LED luminaires. Additionally, five, 50-W wall packs were replaced with four 30-W and one 20-W LED luminaires.

The completed city-wide projects achieved consistently longer maintained light levels and significantly reduced costs in energy use and labor maintenance. The benefits of improved light levels, lighting quality, and overall safer environments that have resulted from LED technology will benefit the City of South Milwaukee for years to come and likely in ways not yet realized.


— Learn more about Optec LED Lighting products.

— Download an LED lighting ROI calculator.

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