Retail Traffic

The Light After The Storm

Immediately after the debris settled and the winds had died down from Hurricane Charley, Craig Goodwin of the Don M. Casto Organization in Columbus, Ohio, and the firm's Florida affiliate, Casto Lifestyle Properties, assessed the damage to its Florida holdings.

Its 65,100-square-foot Seminole Lakes Plaza in the high-growth Punta Gorda market suffered the brunt of the ferocious winds and pummeling rain. Concrete lighting poles lay broken on the parking lot or were cracked and leaning precariously, threatening to topple.

The center's major tenant, a prototype Kash n' Karry grocery store, had no electricity. As a source of food and other staples in the community, the store needed to reopen as soon as possible. The grocery, a video store and other retailers depended on the plaza's average daily traffic count of nearly 19,000 for revenue. But the damaged lighting system stood in the way. It was potentially dangerous to shoppers, and it left the center in the dark.

Replacing the exterior lighting normally would take at least six weeks, but Goodwin didn't want to hear that. He called me at Site Photometrics, a company specializing in lighting system rehabilitation and asked me to assess the situation on site with the company's representative for the property. I flew there from Maryland the following day.

I reached the plaza by 1:30 p.m. and a half hour later called Goodwin with an estimate to completely rebuild the entire lighting system. He approved the proposal verbally by 2:30 p.m.

I agreed to complete the project in 10 days. The compressed timetable included two weekends of work and demanded incredibly tight coordination among product manufacturers, an assembler, installer and Site Photometrics. A lot of things would need to be done simultaneously. Clearly, teamwork, or lack of it, would make or break this job.

Day 1

It was a Friday. My company started designing the lighting configuration and preparing the erection drawings. The lighting system was made up of 22 poles holding 55 luminaires arranged in seven different lighting clusters. The clusters had to be oriented in a particular way to ensure that light would be distributed evenly over the parking lot surface.

Meanwhile, the installer, Florida Industrial Electric, ordered the new light poles. The 45-foot-long, 14-inch-square, prestressed concrete poles weigh about 5,000 pounds each. They're normally air dried, but the schedule called for a seven-day delivery, so they were oven dried instead.

Roy Wilder, Florida Industrial's project manager for the job, said, “I had to pull a few strings to get that done.”

I also ordered the luminaires and 1000-watt high-performance lamps and gave the go-ahead to the assembler, ATM of Louisiana, to put the clusters together.

Assembling the clusters in the shop, rather than on site as is typical, was one of the factors that enabled us to finish the project on schedule. On-site assembly requires a four- or five-man crew per pole, some in “cherry pickers” working 30 feet to 60 feet in the air. They handle brackets and bolts and manhandle 50-pound to 75-pound luminaires, sometimes in strong wind. It can take up to three hours to hang and wire each one.

By contrast, preassembled clusters are hoisted to the top of poles and attached with a few bolts. A worker drops wiring down the center of the pole and another worker connects it to a junction box at the base of each pole. Up to four clusters per hour can be installed this way.

Days 2 and 3

Before that could be accomplished, however, Florida Industrial needed to clear the parking lot of the downed and tilted poles, and prep the site for the new poles. That was easier said than done.

Wilder headed up two four-man crews who lived in two RVs that had been brought to the site because local hotels were either closed for lack of power or filled with residents displaced by Charley.

The short time frame meant working weekends and long days that ended at 9:30 p.m. Gas powered generators with light stands helped the crews see at night. Three days after Goodwin approved the job, the parking lot was clear.

Day 4

On Monday, the assembler received the luminaires and realized the job was going to be more difficult than expected. The fixtures lacked ballast trays, were wired for 277 volts, rather than the 208 volts of the plaza's lighting system, and had mounting details that differed from the ones normally used by Site Photometrics. ATM's work would be cut out for it because completed clusters needed to be shipped in three days.

Days 5 through 8

Back at the site, the crews spent four days testing the underground wiring system. They checked for breaks, nicks and abrasions in the wiring that could cause short-circuiting when the wire was reenergized and might touch other metal components. They replaced damaged wires and installed ground-level junction boxes near each light pole where the wiring from the luminaires would be connected to the main wiring.

The old lighting system had been controlled with photo cells, but Casto wanted to save energy by turning off the light in parts of the parking lot after the stores closed. Florida Industrial installed a time clock and new wiring to give the property owner better control.

As the crews readied the site, ATM shipped the clusters on a dedicated truck for an on-time delivery early on the eighth day.

The light poles hadn't arrived, however, so the crews got a little edgy because only two days remained to wrap up the job. Finally at 2 p.m. on the eighth day, the first shipment of 11 poles wheeled in on a heavy-duty flatbed.

Although a thunderstorm hit the already devastated area that afternoon and that was cause for alarm, the crews worked through it. By 9:30 p.m. on Friday, five poles and light clusters stood in place in the center's main parking lot.

Day 9

Early Saturday morning, the work continued on installing the remaining six poles. The crews were finishing the last pole when the second shipment of 11 poles finally arrived just after noon. After unloading them, the men took a break during the hottest part of the day before starting another night of work. They completed four poles and clusters in four-and-a-half hours and called it a night at 9:30 p.m.

On day nine, utility power returned. The crews energized the clusters on 11 of the 15 completed poles a day ahead of schedule.

Day 10

Starting at 7 a.m. on Sunday, the crews installed the remaining poles and clusters. They wrapped up the last one by noon, then tested the entire system and set it on automatic control. Everyone had pulled together to complete the project on schedule and the timing couldn't have been better: The following day, officials lifted the curfew in Punta Gorda, allowing the retail stores in Seminole Lakes Plaza to operate past dusk.

Teamwork made it possible.

Morstein is a principal of Columbia, Md.-based Site Photometrics ([email protected]), a lighting design/build contractor specializing in upgrading parking lot lighting systems.

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