Sunday, July 24, 2011

Church Lights, Again

Last week, I complained that some of the lights were out in one of the lanterns over the altar, the apparent result of a wiring problem. (See “Safety Last.”) I happened to see Vladimir before church this morning, so I asked him if the lantern had been fixed. His answer was no, the rector and the junior warden—he may have mentioned others as well—said there was no money for a repair. Moreover, the offending lantern was now completely non-functional.

When the choir went into the church to practice before the 10:30 service, Doug Starr told the choir that the lights had been turned down to reduce the heat buildup in the room. (Even so, it was hot.) Indeed, the lighting intensity had been reduced throughout the church. The two altar lanterns were off, presumably because one of them likely presented a fire hazard. Moreover, three spotlights were not functioning. One wonders if we will continue to turn off fixtures and not replace burned out lamps until the church is completely dark or the building burns down, whichever comes first.

The lanterns over the altar are of the same design as those in the chancel. They are, I believe, the lanterns installed when the church was first built. As I noted in “Safety Last,” a short occurred not so long ago in one of the chancel lanterns, which had to be rewired. The conical cap on these particular lanterns holds in heat and tends to melt the insulation of the wiring, creating a short. I am glad to see that my advice of last week was implemented—the lantern has been turned off. (The two altar lanterns are on the same circuit, so both are either energized or not.) There is nothing to stop someone from turning them on again, however.

In the short term, even if St. Paul’s has to borrow the money, we should hire an electrician to investigate what is wrong with the lantern. I suspect that heat has again melted insulation and caused a short. The problem could be elsewhere in the lighting control circuitry, however, so we do not actually know what the dangers are or whether keeping the two lanterns off provides safety against fire.

In the longer term, both for safety and aesthetic reasons, all six “witch’s hat” lanterns should be taken down. The two in the sanctuary should not be replaced, as they are so much visual clutter. (Lighting in the sanctuary needs to be completely reconsidered, as it has not been since the exposed organ pipes were added to the church.) The remaining four lanterns should be replaced with lanterns duplicating the other lanterns in the church. These will, no doubt, need to be custom made, but the safety and aesthetic benefits will justify the expense.

Why are such improvements not in the capital campaign? More significantly, do we trust the people currently responsible for church maintenance to spend money collected by the capital campaign wisely?

As long as I’m writing about lighting, let me offer some additional concerns. A number of the spotlights mounted on or near the roof trusses are badly aimed. This results, for example, in some choir members having a hard time reading their music for lack of light. The problem is that the fixtures are hard to aim, may not hold their position after being aimed, and present serious difficulties when lamps have to be changed. I have no idea as to the best way to change lamps. Perhaps we need catwalks like those installed in theaters. The solution to aiming spotlights, however, is to get motorized fixtures such as those used for rock shows that can be remotely aimed. Why has no one considered this? Why aren’t such fixtures part of the capital campaign?

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