At the Aug. 10 East Lansing City Council meeting, where Council approved a $300,000 grant agreement to renovate the pickleball and tennis courts at Patriarche Park in 2022, Council member (now Mayor Pro Tem) Dana Watson asked about the function of the lights at the pickleball courts, which seemed not to be working.
ELi can now confirm that electrical service to the lights was severed, and it is unclear if the courts will be illuminated again anytime soon due to several factors, including the age of the light fixtures.
Watson said at the Aug. 10 meeting that she had “been asked before about the lights at the pickleball courts. Do those ever go on or is it, you know, dusk-til-dawn type thing?”
City Parks and Recreation Project Coordinator Jim Jennings came to the podium and offered what information he had.
“The lights are currently not operational,” Jennings explained. “The underground wiring actually was cut inadvertently by the contracting crew that was working on the bathrooms on that side. And quite honestly, beyond that, I don’t know where we stand.”
He said that then-Interim Director of Parks & Rec Wendy Wilmers Longpre “was working on that, and I don’t know if that is going to be repaired or not. Because it was underground, I do know that any repair is extensive and going to be difficult to do.”
After Jennings’ remarks, City Manager George Lahanas said that he would get more information “to see the status and what the renovation will do in terms of moving forward.”
Since that meeting and ELi’s subsequent report, we’ve heard from some readers that they, like Council member Watson, wanted to know more about what happened with the lights at the pickleball courts. So, we asked the City and received a response from then-Interim Director Longpre. (The full-time director position has been awarded to Cathy DeShambo, who had been serving as the City’s Environmental Services Administrator. She started her new role on Monday, Aug. 23, and Longpre is back to her position as Assistant Director of Parks & Rec.)
The answer from Longpre — which came in the form of an email originally sent to Lahanas, DeShambo, Jennings, and other members of City Staff on Aug. 18 — explained that the power supply to the lights had been cut, and that the City did not intend to repair it.
“Electrical service to the tennis/pickleball court light fixtures was provided from the restrooms that are just north of the tennis courts,” Longpre said in the email. “During the restroom renovation, the entire electrical service to the restroom building was abandoned and the building was rewired to a new stand-alone electrical panel, exterior to the building.”
She continued: “The electrical service to the tennis/pickleball court lights was discovered when the restroom electrical panel was removed and the line was severed. The electrical line to the lights had not been identified on the construction plans or marked on the site.”
The City doesn’t intend to repair the electrical line and reconnect it to the fixtures for multiple reasons, according to Longpre. The existing light fixtures are already old and functioned poorly prior to losing power. They are costly to replace, plus the electrical line providing power is old and buried directly in the ground instead of being housed in a bigger conduit, leading to concerns about its function.
Longpre offered some background on the light fixtures, explaining that there are six fixtures consisting of steel poles with mercury vapor ballasts and lamps, essentially big light bulbs with mercury in them. It’s unknown how old, precisely, the fixtures are. Longpre wrote that they are estimated to be around 50 years old and as such, they were already in poor shape.
“The ballasts energize but some of the lamps don’t illuminate, and those that do, are dimly lit and blink out,” Longpre wrote.
She added that the sale of mercury vapor ballasts was federally outlawed in 2008, and when existing fixtures of that type fail, they need to be replaced with a modern alternative. Because of that, the City is “unable to replace any non-function ballasts in these fixtures.”
And while the City just accepted a $300,000 grant to be coupled with $200,000 from the City’s coffers to redo the pickleball and tennis courts, that project doesn’t include provisions for work on the lighting infrastructure.
Longpre did note that the City is considering possibly providing separate electric service as part of that project. Those costs would then be over and above the $500,000 renovation plan.