Orrville nights merry and bright after recent…
In the holiday classic “White Christmas,” Bing Crosby says, “May your days be merry and bright.”
Some folks in Orrville have been working to make sure people's nights are merry and bright as well. Even while a global pandemic casts its long shadow across the land, the streets of Orrville have never been brighter, thanks to the culmination of two recent projects.
In the weeks leading up, the Thanksgiving crews from both the Orrville City Street Department and Orrville Municipal Utilities Electric Department worked together to install 56 new ornamental light fixtures along with over 1,000 feet of colorful string lights on the streetlamp posts downtown. While the city has seen a long tradition of holiday decoration, recent changes prompted the city’s administration to step up, spruce up and expand the display.
When Orrville Mayor Dave Handwerk learned this summer that the organization that had been coordinating the holiday decorations downtown for the past several years would be taking a step back to refocus efforts in other directions, he started to look into the possibilities.
“There was a collection of older ornaments and fixtures that had gathered over the years, many of which had seen better days,” Handwerk said. “We thought it would be a good opportunity for an upgrade and a nice way to add some happiness in an otherwise ‘blah’ year.”
Along with city finance director Janet Strimlan, Handwerk began gathering information on the type, number and condition of the existing inventory. The pair worked to identify new fixtures that would work well with the city’s particular style of downtown streetlamps and pulled together an estimate of the costs of the project.
“At one point we actually went out and physically counted all of the downtown lampposts,” Handwerk said. “I’m sure people were wondering what we were up to.”
When a local retailer caught wind of their efforts, a generous donation soon followed. With that kick-start the project was off and running, city council agreeing to fund the balance. While past installations were handled by the street department, this year saw a joint effort that included crews from the electric department as well.
“I really love it when our departments can work together on projects,” Handwerk said. “We have a great spirit of cooperation here in Orrville.”
Not only did the electric department contribute in the “merry” part of the equation, but also they worked to take the “bright” to a whole new level over the past few years as they recently completed a streetlight conversion project that began in 2015. The mission to replace high pressure sodium and mercury vapor streetlamps with efficient LED light fixtures was initiated as part of a settlement between the City of Orrville and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA had long been at odds with the city over operation of its municipally owned, coal-fired power plant, claiming the facility was in violation of the Clean Air Act. After years of back and forth between the two entities, a consent decree forced the plant to decrease coal-fueled generation by 90% and ordered the city to choose from a number of possible mitigation projects. Utilities director Jeff Brediger explained mitigation projects are “Earth friendly” ventures that may include things like reforestation, restoration of wetlands, solar installations or other such endeavors.
“When the street light retrofit was proposed, it made perfect sense,” Brediger said. “Since we supply the electricity to those streetlamps, we would actually be benefiting our customers by reducing our usage and upgrading our lighting — all while satisfying the EPA’s requirements.”
While the up-front cost of replacing nearly all 1,600 of the city’s street lamps and security lights has been substantial ($452,000 in labor, materials and disposal of the old fixtures), the payback is relatively quick and ongoing. The new lights reduce yearly electric consumption by nearly 690,000 kilowatt hours — enough to power 65 average American homes for an entire year. Saving electricity at that rate will allow payback of the entire investment in just over seven years.
Beyond simple economic impact, the environmental benefits of improved efficiency are astounding. This LED conversion alone will reduce coal consumption by 422 tons per year and prevent the release of over 41,000 pounds of harmful flue gasses including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and the most damaging of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide. An additional environmental benefit comes compliments of the more directional nature of the LED fixtures outside the downtown area. These pole-mounted lights “puddle” more directly toward the ground, greatly reducing incidental light pollution, which has been proven to be detrimental to migrating birds and other wildlife.
“The project has been a classic case of ‘making lemonade when life hands you lemons,’” Brediger said. “We’ve made some great improvements that will benefit citizens for years to come.”
While here in Ohio there is certainly no guarantee of a white Christmas, chances are good that if you make your way through Orrville this holiday season, you’ll at least find a fair dose of both “merry and bright.”
Email John Lorson at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Instagram @railtrailnaturalist.
Editor’s note: John Lorson serves on Orrville City Council as Ward 2 representative.