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LED Lighting Upgrade Improves City’s Safety, Reduces Energy and Maintenance Costs


Bordered by Lake Michigan, South Milwaukee lies at the heart of a booming economic corridor along the Fresh Coast’s South Shore that is the Great Lakes region. Located near key transportation hubs including General Mitchell International Airport, South Milwaukee is included in a series of growing cities stretching from Chicago to Milwaukee metropolitan regions. The city’s budding diversity, vibrant neighborhoods, strong school district, and strengthening downtown area all contribute to its bright future. The largely blue-collar community’s rich history in manufacturing and industrial prominence is offset by the beauty of its gem – Grant Park – a sprawling shoreline parkway that includes woodsy hiking trails with seven bridges, large sandy beach, golf course, athletic fields and tennis courts.


In 2014, Jim Shelenske, South Milwaukee city clerk, approached Optec LED Lighting with a request to improve lighting in the City Hall rear parking lot where police cars are parked in the open. The city’s quest to improve safety in one lot led to a municipality-wide LED retrofit two years later with a bigger plan – to reduce energy consumption and costs, and lower maintenance. The benefits of the City Hall parking lot lighting reached beyond improving safety. Savings realized from the reduction in energy use inspired the municipality to invest in a total LED retrofit when the time was right. In 2015, Shelenske worked with Optec LED Lighting again, this time to convert all of the city’s municipal building lighting to LED. The upgrade included interior and exterior spaces at seven locations with energy efficient replacements that are on track to pay off the anticipated return on investment in as little as 1.5 years.

“By bringing our city’s lighting into the 21st century, we are making these buildings and exterior areas safer and improving employees’ productivity” said Mayor Erik Brooks. “New lights will provide more reliability and improve nighttime visibility, giving the community a greater sense of safety.”


With the expansive lighting initiative ahead of them, Optec LED Lighting provided a complete consultation that included LED lamp retrofits from manufacturers that don’t compete with their own. Optec spearheaded the project to provide turnkey solutions that included product recommendations and strategic sourcing. Facilities that received lighting upgrades include the city’s wastewater and water departments, city hall, self-deposit station, public library, fire and streets departments.

The Optec lighting team thoroughly surveyed each location 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 unique space. In thousands of one-for-one replacements, high pressure sodium (HPS), metal halide (MH) and fluorescent lighting were replaced with LED bulbs and luminaires. The Streets Department received the most Optec LED interior and exterior replacements.


The city’s Water Department retrofit included 120-watt Type III and Type V pole-mount area fixtures; 120-watt Type III wall-mount area fixtures; and 30-watt Type III surface-mount wall pack fixtures. Retrofits to the City Hall, Self-Deposit Station, Public Library, Fire and Streets Departments included 80-watt Type III and 120-watt Type V pole-mount area fixtures; 120-watt Type III wall-mount area fixtures; 40-watt Type V flood light fixtures; 120- and 160-watt Type V highbay fixtures; 40-watt Type V parking structure fixtures; 20-, 30-, and 60-watt Type III surface-mount wall pack fixtures; and 120-watt Type V pendant-mount highbay fixtures.


South Milwaukee’s Wastewater Sewage Department’s retrofit benefits from an impressive 50 percent energy reduction on the interior LED upgrade and a remarkable 75 percent energy reduction on the exterior upgrade. The total Optec LED retrofit included 20-, 30-, and 60-watt Type III surface-mount wall pack fixtures with button photocell; 60-watt Type III surface-mount wall pack fixtures; 60-watt Type V highbay pendant fixtures; 60-watt Type V low-profile, surface-mount canopy fixtures; 120-watt Type III square, pole-mount fixtures; and 120-watt area luminaires.


Fire Chief Joe Knitter had foresight into the benefits improved light levels would mean for his staff when the previous, often burned out, compact fluorescent lighting (CFL) was replaced with interior LED bulbs and Optec’s exterior LED luminaires. The Fire Department’s old lighting needed to warm up to achieve full brightness and required challenging bulb replacement at elevated heights that created a safety concern. As a result, the lights were left on all night to diminish shadowed and dark spaces. Knitter was instrumental in moving the department’s retrofit project forward, ensuring the lighting was improved to the current bright levels and providing the instant on that is so important to this essential municipal department.

“The adoption of LED lighting throughout our facility will not only drive operational and maintenance savings with a quick return on investment, but provide greater light output for the safety and well-being for our city’s first responders,” Knitter shared.

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 CFL lights were previously left on 24/7/365, the return on investment from the LED retrofit is 1.5 years.


The City of South Milwaukee’s Street Department was previously lit with HPS that cast a yellow hue, making it impossible for employees to see intricate vehicle work including important maintenance procedures under the trucks’ 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, credits the LED lighting upgrade with improved safety and job performance – invaluable attributes for productivity.

 “Now we can actually see to properly maintain the vehicles. It was so dark before installing these new LED luminaires that the technicians didn’t even have enough light to check the trucks’ fluids,” said Ratajski.


The public library has also benefited from a lighting upgrade with a one-for-one replacement of the previous 14 metal halide (MH) fixtures. Formerly, the library had eight, 75W MH flood lights in front of the building, which were retrofit with 40W LED luminaires.  Additionally, five, 50W wall packs were replaced with 30W and one, 20W LED luminaires. This entire upgrade provided the City with over $2,300 in energy incentives and is saving the library $6,978 annually on the electric bill.

“As a steward of taxpayers’ funds, it’s important to find ways to save money while incorporating new technology,” said Nan Champe, City of South Milwaukee library director. “These new LED luminaires help control costs, provide bright, even light and enhance other library improvements we’re making,” Champe added.


According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lighting represents 40 percent of the average commercial building’s electric bill. Optec is responding to the demand for better efficiency with energy-efficient products that can significantly reduce lighting energy costs while maintaining and improving lighting quality.

The completed project achieved consistently longer maintained light levels and significantly reduced costs in both energy use and labor maintenance. The benefit of improved quality of light levels and safer environments that comes from LED technology was an important factor noted by Shelenske.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome of the LED retrofit and the team at Optec Lighting who provided an invaluable service that went far beyond sales and incorporated complete consultation and project management,” Shelenske said.

About three years ago, Mayor Brooks asked Shelenske to head up the city-wide effort to convert the municipal buildings’ traditional lights to LED technology. Brooks’ objective for doing this is to save energy costs, lessen energy consumption and improve the lighting quality to ensure safer conditions.

“The economic benefits for municipalities to invest in LEDs are clear – they save energy, reduce environmental impact and improve lighting quality,” commented Brooks. “This ambitious city-wide lighting modernization initiative will take advantage of advances in lighting technologies to deliver higher quality and more reliable lighting for city employees and residents,” Brooks continued.

Optec wrote and submitted the Focus on Energy® incentive paperwork on behalf of the city, which received $10,329 in total incentive refunds for these upgrades.