• John Ore with LED Lightboard
    John Ore with LED Lightboard

Heather Hall is one of the most used rooms on campus, with lights burning from 8 a.m. to midnight daily as students fill it for either theatre classes or rehearsals.

The cost of lighting that room may soon drop dramatically, thanks to a project taken on by a group of faculty, students and staff members.

The project involves replacing the hall’s incandescent lighting fixtures with a system that uses light-emitting diodes (LEDs). LEDs use one-tenth the amount of power that traditional lights do.

The project also involves generating the electricity to power the new lights and offering a class to teach students about this and other energy conservation strategies for the theater.

The project began in the fall of 2009 when John Ore, professor of theatre, began meeting monthly with a group of interested faculty, staff and students. The project attracted a core working group of three students, two staff members, and one other faculty member.

Ore spent his sabbatical in spring 2010 meeting weekly with the group and completing the design phase of the project. He also purchased the first 14 LED fixtures for the hall.

Those lights have been installed and Ore said students are already using them.

“The students really like them,” he said.”They are very user-friendly and students can mix colors intuitively.”

Some of the architectural LED fixtures were purchased from a company in Georgetown called Ringdale, which makes LED lights. Ringdale also has provided technical advice on the project.

“They have been very generous with their time and knowledge,” Ore said.

Ore has used some of a $7,168 grant that he and Bill O’Brien, associate professor of physics, received from the Associated Colleges of the South to purchase hardware and software that will enable them to monitor energy use in Heather Hall. “Shorty” Schwartz, a staff electrician at Southwestern who is on the project team, plans to connect this equipment to the electrical circuits in Heather Hall this fall. Ore will then start monitoring the amount of energy being used in the room so that he can compare it to the energy being used when the system is fully installed.

“It all starts with being cognizant of how much energy we use,” Ore said.

Ore said he still needs to replace 25 conventional tungsten-halogen fixtures that are in the hall.

The next phase of the project involves installing equipment on the roof over Heather Hall that can generate energy by means of solar power and wind power.

“Since LED lights use less energy, it is realistic to expect that we can offset that energy use with wind and solar power,” Ore said.

Kira McEntire, a sophomore  environmental studies major who also is interested in theatre, has been researching different types of solar panels to see what would be the most cost-effective for the project. She hopes to find a grant that will enable them to purchase different types of solar panels so people can see the difference between them.

“This is a good step toward teaching people about renewable energy,” she said. McEntire said she also hopes the project will show people that the arts don’t have to be wasteful. She noted that in addition to requiring a lot of energy, theatre lights generate a lot of heat, which requires air conditioning to cool. Paints have toxic chemicals and a lot of energy is required to fire ceramics.

Ore said he hopes to eventually have a kiosk outside Heather Hall that tells how much energy is being used in real time and how much energy is being made. Sophomore theatre major Alexis Gette also is developing a web site to keep people informed about the project.

Gette, McEntire and a recent graduate, Nathan Shaw-Meadows, spent May Term this year helping Ore and O’Brien develop the syllabus for a new course on energy conservation techniques for the theatre, which will be offered for the first time during the 2011 May Term. The course is being developed in conjunction with Tim Francis, a theatre professor at Trinity University and the professors hope it will be a model for other liberal arts colleges.

Among the people who have been following the Heather Hall project with interest are the parents of Heather McGaughey, for whom the hall was named. McGaughey died in a car accident in July 2005, one year after graduating from Southwestern with a degree in theatre.

Her parents, Doug and Carol McGaughey returned to campus in May to hear a presentation on the proposed new lighting design for the theatre.

“We were thrilled with the invitation to participate in the design presentation,” Doug McGaughey said. “To know Heather Hall is to be on the cutting edge of lighting design technology is exciting and a tribute to the entire theater program Heather loved so much at Southwestern. On the fifth anniversary of her death, we are lifted up by this living legacy of excellence and theater arts.”

Ironically, Ore said Heather McGaughey was interested in the use of LED lights for the theatre.

Meanwhile, the project has already inspired others on campus to install LED lighting. In July, Physical Plant workers installed LED floodlights in the Mabee Hall of Honor, which is located between the two theaters in the Fine Arts Building.  A few of the older lights are still in place so people can see the difference between the two types of light.

Although the LED floodlights are more expensive ($70 versus $10 for incandescent floodlights), they only use 18 watts of energy compared to 90 watts for the incandescent lights. Also, the LED lights are advertised to last 50,000 hours compared to 20,000 to 30,000 hours for the incandescent lights.

Schwartz said Physical Plant also is considering using LED lights for street lights, pedestrian lights and perhaps even the gym in the Robertson Center.

“There is a lot of potential here,” he said. “It would be nice for us to be at the forefront of this.”


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