Neighborly night lights:Ball fields that don’t spill the beams
When Fort Lauderdale, Fla., decided to build fields for soccer and football at the edge of city-owned Holiday Park, officials were concerned about the possibility of sports lighting intruding on nearby residents. There was a time when officials would not have worried about lighting — when it was simply part of the package, like goalposts and pitcher’s mounds. But the advent of light pollution ordinances, coupled with a growing respect for quality-of-life issues, has drawn new attention to recreational lighting.
To help make lighting community-friendly, Fort Lauderdale officials carefully determined lighting criteria and chose fixtures designed to control obtrusive lighting. Assistant City Engineer Pete Sheridan says that the products restrict light more effectively than the lights previously used on a baseball field at the same location. Officials are so pleased with the results that they are using the same lighting parameters for fixtures at two other city sports facilities.
Creating ball field lighting that supplies the illumination needed for safe play without disturbing nearby residents is a tricky business. According to Michael Owens, chairman of the Sports and Recreational Area Lighting Committee for the Illuminated Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), New York, spill light, or the amount of light that extends onto residential property, can be measured with a light meter. However, glare cannot be objectively determined. While a resident may not have light hitting his yard, he still may be bothered by nearby floodlights shining against the night sky.
Additionally, no two lighting situations are identical, and lights that work in metropolitan neighborhoods may be obtrusive in darker rural areas. Finding the best combination of lighting elements for a ball field near a residential neighborhood requires careful planning and product selection.
To find the best lighting for a neighborhood park, officials need to take into account the sometimes-competing requirements of that particular community. That evaluation will include reviewing local ordinances, determining recreational lighting requirements and listening to nearby residents.
Many communities have spill light limits that can be difficult for recreation facilities to meet. For example, in Fort Lauderdale, the Holiday Park project was required to spill less than 1 footcandle of light onto residential properties.
Furthermore, ordinances designed for facilities other than ball fields can hinder lighting design. For instance, Fort Lauderdale ordinances forbid structures, including light poles, more than 60 feet tall. However, installing taller poles would allow the lights to focus down onto the field rather than toward neighbors. Additionally, the poles needed to be approximately 80 feet high so that the angle of the rays would not blind a player looking up to catch a pass. The city was able to get the necessary permission to use tall poles when officials demonstrated that the variance was in the best interests of the community.
Balancing the requirements of local ordinances with the needs of players can be a difficult feat. While officials want to keep obtrusive light to a minimum, they also want to project sufficient light for player safety. Additionally, the level of necessary illumination varies with the sport and the level of play.
To assist with the determination of appropriate sports lighting, IESNA has published “Recommended Practices for Sports and Recreational Area Lighting.” The document, which is currently being updated, provides illumination criteria for various sports and offers lighting recommendations for new and existing facilities. It is available through the organization’s web site at www.iesna.org.
Generally, recreation league play falls into IESNA’s Class IV lighting. That means that baseball and softball fields require about 30 footcandles of illumination for the infield and 20 for the outfield, while soccer and football require 20 footcandles throughout. (One footcandle is roughly equal to the light on roadways at night. Moonlight registers one one-hundredth of a footcandle, while daylight can reach 10,000 footcandles.)
Other organizations may stipulate different lighting levels. For example, Little League Baseball requires 50 footcandles in the infield and 30 for the outfield during sanctioned games. Fayetteville, Ark., chose those same specifications for a softball four-plex fitted with products from Universal Sports Lighting, Peachtree City, Ga., because officials wanted to ensure that the facility could host regional tournaments.
When stipulating lighting levels, officials should remember that the metal halide lamps in sports lighting burn brightest when first installed. “The lamps are not stable and will depreciate significantly in the first 100 hours of use,” Owens says. Therefore, lighting tests should be made only after the lamps have burned for 100 hours.
Even then, the footcandle levels should measure higher than needed because the lamps will continue to dim as they age. For example, if officials want a football field to average 30 footcandles of illumination, the 100-hour level should register between 35 and 40 footcandles, Owens says.
Although determining technical requirements is an important part of planning, community involvement can make or break a project. The perception of offensive lighting is subjective, and a ball field that balances spill light requirements and onfield lighting levels can still create a nuisance for neighbors.
To create an installation acceptable to everyone, residents should be apprised of the project and its progress. Contacting homeowners’ associations in neighborhoods near ball fields encourages residents to voice their concerns, says Stephen Bailey of Bailey Consulting Engineers, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., consultant for Fort Lauderdale Holiday Park fields.
Indeed, a lighting project in Rio Rancho, N.M., was initiated because of community displeasure with the light from two softball fields in Rio Rancho Sports Complex. When neighborhoods grew around the once-rural park, the facility became “a disaster because of the light spill issue,” says Ed Chismar, director of parks and recreation for Rio Rancho. The High Resort Neighborhood Association participated in planning discussions and even contributed financially to replacing the lights withones from Musco Lighting, Oskaloosa, Iowa. Lights featuring horizontal bulbs and louvers were installed to control the light, and, one year later, Association President Joan Wagenkenecht says that residents are pleased with the results.
Choosing the best light
Once the groundwork has been laid, the next step in choosing unobtrusive ball field lighting is finding a fixture that will provide the necessary footcandles while minimizing glare and spill light. Spill control devices that prevent rays from traveling from the source toward neighboring properties can help reduce obtrusive light, Owens says. The most common cutoff features are horizontal lamps, shields and louvers.
The horizontal bulb, which typically is recessed into the light fixture, limits light distribution but cannot be aimed like a traditional floodlight. For the Holiday Park fields, Fort Lauderdale chose a light with a horizontal lamp tube with an external spill control device from Qualite Sports Lighting, Hillsdale, Mich. City Project Engineer Robert Clapp says that a product without a horizontal bulb was considered, but the light had a tighter beam, and more lights would have been required to project the same number of footcandles.
Considerations like that are important because light control products may outprice standard features by “more than 2 to 1,” Bailey says. However, officials like Connie Edmonston, parks and recreation superintendent for Fayetteville, Ark., believe that light control products can be worth the extra expense to help protect players and the community from glare.
Shields and louvers can serve as cutoff devices. External shields or visors have scoop-like parts on the top or sides of the light to help direct beams toward play. Louvers are generally fixed horizontal strips that focus light rays toward the fields. Shields and louvers also can be placed over the entire lighting fixture to keep both the bulb and the reflector from directing light outside the field.
The drawback to using shields or louvers is that they can lessen a light’s effectiveness, Owens says. Calculations of field lighting should factor in the effect of the devices for an accurate reading.
While a careful choice of lighting fixtures is essential, attention to the physical composition of the ball park also can minimize light pollution. Erecting physical barriers between the lights and the community can be helpful. Edmonston says that her department is employing the common technique of planting a tree row between a softball complex and planned residential developments to help contain light.
Using nonreflective colors in the facility and field also can lessen obtrusive lighting, according to Owens. The glow of reflected light from a ball field can be as annoying to neighbors as direct spill light or glare. Painting a concession stand bright white can contribute to that effect, while choosing a darker and flatter color can help prevent it. The appropriate combination of techniques to minimize obtrusive lighting will vary with the facility and region. While meeting the needs of sports facilities, neighbors and cities can be daunting, it is a game that everyone plays to win.
“Everybody wants a ball field, but no one wants one next to them,” Edmonston says. By using non-glare technology and careful planning, officials hope that they can change that perspective and make recreational ball fields welcome everywhere.