Augustana Chapel lighting the way

Chris Blades is manager of Facilities and Operations on Augustana Campus, in Camrose. Last year, he helped oversee a total retrofit of the lighting in “the Chapel.” The new, state-of-the-art LED (Light-emitting diode) system uses dramatically less electricity and produces a much better experience.

Why did we start looking at LEDs? It started with the construction of the Jeanne & Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre. Sustainability is a key feature for this building.  It’s a 4 Green Globes building and every light in the building is LED!  One of the challenges was finding a good fixture for the house lighting in the auditorium.  After testing there was one that everyone approved of. That was my cue to say, hey! I have another space that this fixture could work in.

What space was that?

The Augustana Chapel is located in the Faith and Life Centre. It’s called the chapel, but it’s a multipurpose space. Acoustically, it’s a really nice space. We do a lot of recordings in there—it is the primary location for worship and for musical performances—and it’s also used for board meetings, conferences, as a classroom, for all sorts of purposes.

What was wrong with the old lighting?

The Chapel was probably the one area of whole campus which was not updated in our last lighting retrofit. It was just using incandescent lights, big locomotive lights—headlights basically, in a can. The lighting quality was poor, the colour was poor, and the lighting spread was spotty producing dark shadows, not even at all. Whenever we had a performance, it was always a challenge. We had to add lighting to bring the ambience up so that it was more acceptable and pleasing.

What kind of difference have the LED lights made?

The new lighting spread is fantastic, it has good colour, it really enhances the space. The theatrical lighting’s colour quality is the same, if not better, than anything else out there. No noise, no buzzing. Overall quality is fantastic. It’s very energy efficient. By going from incandescent to LED all throughout the space, the theatre lighting sees 80 per cent savings and the house lighting is even better, 88 per cent!

The lights weren’t super expensive; I’d say the price was in line with any other fixture. Riding on the shirt tails of Jeanne & Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre, we really took advantage of leading edge technology. The house lighting is 100 per cent dimmable, which hadn’t been achievable before with LEDs. These fixtures didn’t even have patents on them yet when they were chosen for the arts centre!

Have others noticed the difference?

From the chaplaincy, it was immediate, as soon as they walked into the space, it was “WOW!” They couldn’t believe it. And we’ve had lots of good comments from profs and others that use the space too.

Is sustainability important for your job?

That’s a huge question, because sustainability covers everything. I mean from social responsibility to environmental responsibility, my operations have to be sustainable. I don’t have unlimited funds, I have to make sure what we do will last a number of years and be efficient and effective. All of those ingredients are part of sustainability. Whether looking at mechanical systems, waste systems, lighting systems, it all has to have sustainability as a part of it.

Why is sustainability important to you, personally?

I’m the manager of Facilities and Operations at Augustana and sustainability is a key responsibility for me. It’s part of what I do, but it’s not just a responsibility—it’s a way of life. As I see it, the university is contributing to society by promoting sustainability. We are setting an example that students can take up and learn and live by it.

I’ve been there for 32 years. I remember the 3Rs when that first came out in the 80s. We now have students involved in sustainability at Augustana that are the children of students who sat on the the “green” committee back then. They’re much more enthused than their parents were, they really are. And they’re more knowledgeable and much more willing in take that next step to go further. They want to see change, and they demand a lot more. That’s why it’s so exciting to see the children of alumni involved today.