South Milwaukee, WI, is a town of about 21,000 residents, led by the "progressive" Mayor Erik Brooks, who
is "always looking for areas of improve-ment," according to Fire Chief Joe Knitter.
One way the town about 15 minutes south
of Milwaukee has done that recently is in its
About a year ago, it completed an update
of one-for-one replacements of high-pres-
sure sodium, metal halide and fluorescent
lighting, which were replaced with LED
bulbs and luminaires.
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
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 an LED retrofit was
"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 of more light and a safer
environment outside were obvious and were
noted right away, but even inside became
safer with better lighting.
"Safety was improved on the inside
because the lighting that was installed –
This meant crew members were work-
ing in areas that were often in the shad-
ows and climbing a 16-foot stepladder to
replace parts high up, creating another
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
"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 light-ing. 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
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
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
With a city goal of saving on energy costs
and lowering consumption, LED was a clear
Knitter encourages anyone thinking about
installing LED, or wondering if it's worth it,
to visit somewhere that has installed LED
"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."
Valerie Dennis Craven valerie.craven@
buildings.com is editor in chief of BUILDINGS.
LED Lighting Retrofit Benefits Town
SOUTH MILWAUKEE INCREASED SAFETY AND PRODUCTIVITY AND LOWERED
ENERGY COSTS AT 7 CITY BUILDINGS
SOUTH MILWAUKEE STREETS DEPARTMENT GARAGE: Before the retrofits (left), dark
shadows made it difficult for technicians to check the trucks' fluids. Afterward (right),
the Streets Department superintendent credited the LED lighting upgrade with
improved safety and productivity.