By Brooke Sherrard
Starting in about a month, volunteers will install new lights that will outline the tops of buildings around the square and extend back 100 feet on each of the four main entrances on Main Street and State Street.
The project is under the aegis of Grow Centerville, said Grow Centerville Program Manager Jennifer Appler. The organization works on downtown development, entrepreneurship and housing and is also working to make Centerville a Main Street community again.
Appler said she thinks improvements such as these lights will strengthen the town’s application to the Main Street program this fall.
These lights, which will be in use year-round, will replace the previous lights, which were used during the holiday season and hung across the fronts of the buildings.
When Appler was hired in January, one of her first tasks was to go around to all the building owners on the square and discuss the lights project with them.
One of the downsides to the old lights, Appler said, was that building owners were responsible for turning them on and off and replacing bulbs when they burned out. The new lights will be scheduled to turn on each night at the same time as the streetlights, she said.
Another downside was that changing the previous bulbs required lifts or extension ladders, whereas these lights will be serviced from the rooftops in most cases.
“It creates ambiance and unity around the square, as well as taking a little bit of responsibility off the building and business owners,” Appler said.
Michael Browns, owner of Photography by the Browns on the square, said he was enthusiastic about the project from the moment he heard about it.
“Jennifer came and approached me, and she hardly had gotten into her presentation and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll support it,’” he said. “I believe the price is fair to the businesses and it’s a positive thing.”
He said he thinks this will be an improvement over the old lights.
“I like the idea of replacing the old lights, which are in terrible condition, [and] I like the idea that I don’t have to stop and think about turning the lights on; it will all be automatic,” he said.
Jonathan Hart, who founded CornerHart Electric in 2010, volunteered to install the lights.
“Being raised in Centerville and planning on living here the rest of my life, it’s important to be an asset to the community that I belong in,” he said.
Hart will remove the old lights that still remain, install a composite board along the tops of the buildings and mount the lights to the board.
The use of composite board running along the tops of the buildings means holes will not be drilled into the buildings as before, Appler said.
Hart said the general life expectancy of these LED lights is 50,000 hours, as opposed to 2,000 to 3,000 hours for the incandescent bulbs that were used in the last light project.
“Electric usage will be dramatically less than an incandescent bulb, which is a big advantage also,” he said.
One business in each of the eight sections of the square has volunteered the use of its metering equipment, he said.
Attorney Mike Craver is donating his services to draw up contracts between building owners and the city to make sure everyone is fairly charged for the electricity, Appler said.
Jim Meng, who died in 1991, originally brought the idea for holiday lights to the Chamber of Commerce after he visited the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City during the holidays and saw similar lights there.
After the money was raised volunteers used fire department ladder trucks to put up the lights in the late 1980s, said Kris Koestner of J&K Market, who was one of the those volunteers.
“They were red, the same as the Plaza, and they were always turned on on Thanksgiving Eve here in hopes to bring people up for shopping on the square,” Koestner said.
Business owners paid for the original bulbs, Koestner said, and later the Chamber sold them replacement bulbs at cost as needed.
Later the Chamber of Commerce changed the bulbs from red to clear because when the bulbs faded they gave off a pinkish color, according to Joyce Bieber, executive director of the Centerville–Rathbun Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.
Koestner said he still turns the lights on at J&K during the holidays, but he is looking forward to the new lights.
“It’s time for a change,” he said. “The new LED lighting is a lot more efficient. I think it would be a good thing for the square.”
The cost of the lights and materials is being paid for by the building owners and through private donations.
Appler said the costs are not finalized but will include a one-time cost to building owners of about $10 a linear foot and about $40 a year in electricity after that. She said Grow Centerville wants to make every effort to work with building owners, so some of the private funds that have been raised will be used on buildings whose owners cannot afford the lights.
“We are willing to work with every business and building owner on the square regarding payment plans,” she said. “No one will be excluded from this project simply because they cannot afford to pay for everything in full at this time.”