PALM HARBOR — When Rick Joyner served as president of the Palm Harbor Little League, there were many nights when he'd spend more time replacing fuses for the lights at Putnam Park than on the baseball field itself.
"The lights were so bad that we often had a blowout during a baseball game. Since I happened to have electrical experience, I'd leave the game and go replace the fuses,'' said Joyner, a 14-year Palm Harbor resident.
Those nights of grappling with a cranky electrical system more than 25 years old are over. By the end of the year, Putnam Park and the Sunderman Complex, two athletic facilities run by the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency, will have state-of-the-art lighting systems.
After spending five years on a waiting list for Penny for Pinellas sales tax funding, in July PHCSA received approval from the Pinellas County Commission for $1 million.
The work, which began this week, will be completed by the end of the year.
The equipment is being purchased from Musco Lighting, based in Oskaloosa, Iowa. The electric work is being done by Himes Electric Co. of Lutz. Musco and Himes also teamed up in 2011 to outfit the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
Although there have always been lights on the Palm Harbor fields, the new system provides "more efficiency, safer lighting levels and more control,'' said Erica Lynford, director of Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation.
At the Sunderman Complex, lights will be installed on six baseball fields, one multipurpose field, two batting cages and the sand volleyball courts.
At Putnam Park, the new lights will illuminate four soccer fields, one baseball field and two tennis courts. Out go the original wooden poles and the old electrical system. In come poles more than 30 feet tall with cement bases and steel tops.
And if a sudden storm forces the fields to close, instead of a recreation worker having to run out in the rain to turn off the lights, "we'll be able to shut off the lights with our computers or smartphones,'' Lynford said.
Lynford also stressed that one of the best parts of the project is that "ultimately, the new, updated lights will save tax dollars.''
"The raw electric cost will save taxpayers 25 percent on electric bills at each location,'' she said.
Palm Harbor had to wait five years for the funding in large part because of the difficult economy, according to Grant McKeel, the Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation employee who will oversee maintenance of the systems.
"We understood that the money from Penny for Pinellas needed to be used for more important projects first, like drainage projects to prevent flooding,'' McKeel said. "We're just happy it's being done now. I think last year alone, it cost $6,000 to maintain the lights. This will reduce that cost tremendously.''
People shouldn't underestimate the importance of good lighting, said Joyner, who served as Little League president from 2007 to 2010.
"It changes the game,'' he said. "It just blows my mind that they are getting new lights. I am most excited for those kids.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.