(This article contributed by Sam Barbee from the UW News Lab)
There is a buzz around the softball fields at the Lower Woodlawn Park. Actually, the buzz is that there is no buzz.
Softball fields 3, 4, 5 and 6, known as the Cloverleaf fields, are getting new, state-of-the-art lights this winter in preparation for the upcoming spring softball season.
The new lighting system will replace the outdated system installed in 1961 and updated in 1983. The current system is made up of 152 unshielded 1,000-watt floodlights on wooden poles that range from 70 to 80 feet. The original floodlights are past their useful life and the poles, although still safe, are also ready to be replaced.
“Our objectives are to eliminate any overflow lighting into the neighborhood, increase playability in the fields, as well as safety,” said Kerrie Stoops, Acting Senior Public Relations Specialist for Seattle Parks and Recreation. “And then create also a more efficient lighting system. We anticipate about 50 percent energy savings.”
The project will consist of digging up the old light poles and installing new ones that are about 20 feet shorter than the current poles. There was some community feedback about the safety of the new light poles.
According to meeting minutes from a Seattle Parks and Recreation meeting in September, community members expressed concern about the lack of safety at the softball fields. They said balls that went above the lights were lost and therefore were unsafe conditions.
Similarly, the lights do not pass current Department of Planning and Developing (DPD) standards for local light pollution.
Enter the new lights.
The city will lower the number of lights at the softball fields from 152 to 68, but wattage of each bulb will rise to 1,500 W. Based on estimates of other facilities, the city estimates a saving of $7,000 per year in energy costs.
“It’s part of a cycle of major maintenance to update them to become more efficient in their lighting,” project director Peggy Tosdal said. “We’ve gone from incandescent to LED-kind of concepts, so this what’s happening with a lot of our sport light.”
Tosdal says the light is “better engineered to the field, and gives better lighting to the infield and outfield.”
The softball fields aren’t alone in their updating, though.
The tennis courts just north of the softball fields will also be getting new lights. The tennis court lights were also installed in 1961 and were updated in 1995. They feature the same lights as the softball fields and pose the same problems.
Karen O’Connor, Communications Strategic Adviser for the parks department, says the project was long overdue.
“We have a backlog in our maintenance,” O’Connor said, “and so, with all the (recent) budget cuts we don’t have money floating around.”
The funding for the project comes from the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy which provides $450,000 for planning and development. The levy also provides another $310,000 for design and construction.
At the meeting to discuss the lighting project, a number of citizens came to request additions for the skatepark at the park, too. They asked for lighting, as well as available water and a larger net to project skatepark users from stray baseballs and softballs.
According to Tosdal, there is project slated to address those concerns, but no timetable has been set yet.