Case Histories: Educational/ Institutional
Lighting for Safety and Savings
by William Kirkland
School crime is often encouraged by the way campuses are managed or maintained. Poor lighting often means poor security.
The Clark School in Swampscott, Massachusetts, was experiencing a security nightmare. Kids were climbing onto the roof and removing shingles. Leaks developed that required costly repairs. In other campus areas, kids lit fires. Windows near the boiler room door were constantly being used for target practice.
Most of the problems were occurring at night, when darkness was an ally of the young vandals. Surveillance indicated that, although the school had security lighting installed, it was woefully inadequate. A facility manager directed that the existing security lighting be replaced. Although the new system provided significantly more and better directed light than the old one, it consumed far less energy. The end result? Security lighting operating and maintenance costs were reduced and, more important, the vandalism was ended.
It’s not unusual for schools to upgrade their lighting systems. For the most part, however, the upgrades are performed principally to lower the cost of energy consumption. While the amount of money spent on lighting is an important issue, the quality of lighting is a far more important matter. Quality determines how much lighting really costs–or saves.
Consider the Clark School case. Suppose, for the sake of discussion, that the existing system already was efficient, and that the lighting needed would have increased the amount spent on operation and maintenance. Under these circumstances, would the lighting have been upgraded? In many cases, it would not have been. Generally speaking, the objective of facility managers is to lower costs, not increase them.
What many school officials budget managers do not understand is that lighting should not be looked at as a cost in and of itself. Lighting is not an end; it is a means to an end. In the final analysis, better lighting very often saves far more than it costs.
Quick return on investment
Consider the case of Central Michigan University and its concern about campus crime. The facility manager determined that the existing mercury vapor lamps used for walkways should be replaced by more efficient high-pressure sodium lamps. Two choices were available: 150 watt lamps, which would have provided more light than before while reducing energy consumption by almost one-third, or 250 watt lamps, which would have no appreciable impact on energy consumption but would greatly enhance the lighting conditions on campus. The 250 watt lamps were chosen–not despite bottom line issues, but because of them. The new lighting provided such an improvement that students felt far more secure. The lighting allowed students to spot potential trouble before it confronted them, so they could take appropriate avoidance measures. The new lighting also permitted security patrols to better view potential problem areas, allowing them to react more quickly.
As a result, the college was able to reduce security patrols without compromising security in any way. The security patrol savings amounted to $10,000 per year, and that financial benefit gave the project a two-and-a-half-year payback. Based on energy savings alone, payback would not have occurred for more than 20 years. This means that the project might not have been implemented at all, or that the 150 watt high-pressure sodium lamps would have been chosen, saving energy, but having precious little impact on security and security cost savings.
Lighting is by far the most visible form of security available. It discourages vandalism, break-ins, and the “hanging out” that too often leads to violence. At the same time, better lighting greatly enhances the performance of the personnel and other equipment (e.g., closed-circuit television cameras) used to provide security and keep the peace, because the personnel and equipment depend on visual inputs.
Lighting used for security purposes can also have other important benefits. The case of Bryant College in Smithfield, Rhode Island is illustrative. At Bryant, the security problem was an outdoor parking lot, a location problematic for many schools across the nation. The lot in question was used principally by night students and faculty. Students reported that they were afraid for their personal safety and personal belongings being taken from their cars.
The new lighting Bryant installed virtually eliminated the problem. Auto break-ins ended, and the very few incidents of vandalism that did occur were reduced from minor to petty status. As a side benefit, the number of vehicular accidents that occurred in the parking lot was cut by 80 percent, and the risk of vehicle/pedestrian accident became extremely low.
Better lighting in such cases can also improve good will. Consider, for example, a school’s lowered exposure to claims, litigation, and bad publicity as a consequence of assaults, vehicle/pedestrian accidents, or even simple incidents of slipping or tripping. The lack of adequate lighting could cause someone to not see a patch of ice or ponded water or some wind-blown debris, or even miss three steps.
Bryant College also enhanced the quality of its roadway lighting, and the number of moving accidents was reduced significantly. The new lighting was comforting to students, their parents, visitors, and faculty, sending a message that stated, “We care about safety.”
Some administrators may worry that security lighting will make a school “look like an armed fortress,” but that does not have to be the case at all. At any number of schools and other facilities, lighting designed principally to provide security is also used to enhance the appearance of buildings and grounds.
Better lighting can also provide opportunities to generate income, particularly for athletic events. Parents and school supporters will often attend a night game that they would miss if it were held during the day. By lighting areas around a field or stadium, opportunities for crime are reduced, and opportunities for additional revenues concession sales are increased.
In North Andover, Massachusetts, Merrimack College significantly upgraded lighting in its Volpe Physical Education Center. The Center included a 3,500-seat ice skating arena and an 800-seat gym. The lighting, which was generally considered dim, gave the beautiful interior a somewhat shabby appearance. The school invested in new lighting. First one, then two, then three and more schools asked about renting the arena for hockey practice. Event promoters and civic associations of all types began asking about renting the facility for events, all of which generated income to the school, or which the school offered pro bono to benefit the community.
The end result? A rather substantial investment in new lighting paid for itself in less than six months. Athletes and coaches were also pleased. They commented that better lighting enhanced eye-hand coordination, promoting better performance and lower risk of accident and injury.
The National Lighting Bureau can be an excellent source of assistance in determining lighting needs. Founded almost 25 years ago, this not-for-profit educational resource is sponsored by professional societies, trade associations, credentialing organizations, manufacturers, utilities, and agencies of the federal government. Its mission is to provide guidance about lighting decisions to those with relatively little technical background.
The Bureau advocates “High-Benefit Lighting”–lighting that carefully considers the full range of improvements that just one change can make, and then accounts for such benefits in design. Any specific change likely to improve safety will probably be able to achieve other valuable benefits as well. High-benefit lighting can lower costs associated with risk management, operation and maintenance.
William Kirkland is a vice president-Marketing, MagneTek, Inc. and a member of the Executive Committee of the National Lighting Bureau.
Reprinted from School Safety Update, December 1999. Published by the National School Safety Center, 805/373-9977.