In 2014, City Clerk Jim Shelenske wanted to brighten the parking lot behind the South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, city hall by replacing high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights with LED bulbs and luminaires. Dark shadows and poor illumination made police vehicles parked there susceptible to vandalism.

His pilot project was so successful that, three years later, Mayor Erik Brooks asked Shelenske to head an effort to convert lighting in all 12 municipal buildings to LED. By the end of 2017, thousands of HPS, metal halide (MH), and fluorescent lights at the fire, street, water, and wastewater departments; a self-deposit recycling station; and library as well as city hall had been upgraded. The city received $14,510 in Focus on Energy, an incentive program launched in 2011 by Wisconsin’s 108 electric and natural gas utilities, funds for the $160,000 project.

Facility Custodian Jason Boswell and a representative of the lights’ manufacturer, Optec LED Lighting in Ontario, California, surveyed each facility over a series of days to assess the scope of retrofit by determining the lighting needs at each.

The project has reduced costs in both energy use – 50% to 75% depending on luminaire type – and maintenance labor, leading to an anticipated return on investment of 1.5 years. In addition to lowering the city’s electricity bill, Brooks wanted to enhance quality of life for employees and residents. LED’s brighter, whiter illumination creates a safer environment in and around buildings, including open spaces and parking areas.

City Hall/Police Department

With 174 interior and 16 exterior replacements, the building that could be considered the “heart” of the community received the most upgrades. New luminaires include 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 high bay 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 high bay fixtures.

Fire Department

At the fire house, 35-year-old compact fluorescent lights (CFL) mounted 15 feet to 18 feet up in the air were left on all night to give drivers enough light to safely back engine trucks and ambulances into vehicle bays.

“Not only did it cast a lot of shadows for dead or dim spots, but we were starting to replace the ballast, bulbs, and other parts because of the age of the fixtures,” says Fire Chief Joe Knitter. This meant crew members were working in areas that were often in the shadows and climbing a 16-foot stepladder to replace parts high up, creating another safety concern.

The new LED lights are not only brighter, but controlled by timers so light is available only when necessary.


This building had a one-for-one replacement of 14 metal halide (MH) fixtures. Eight 75W floodlights outside were replaced with 40W LED luminaires. Five 50W wall packs were replaced with 30W luminaires and one with a 20W luminaire. Some interior fixtures are operated by occupancy sensors.

“They enhance other improvements we’re making,” says Director Nan Champe.

HPS lights cast a yellow hue that made it difficult to see under vehicle hoods. “It was so dark technicians didn’t have enough light to check fluids,” says Superintendent Dan Ratajski.

LED lighting was installed 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. “Now we can actually see to properly maintain the vehicles,” says Ratajski.

Water and Sewer

The 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.

Energy consumption inside the Wastewater Sewage Department building has fallen 50% and 75% outside the building. The 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 high bay 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.