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New Lights Illuminate Renovated School’

By Shawn Good of Brinjac Engineering

The historic Milton S. Hershey School renovation project include the use of landscape lighting to open views of campus, create focal points, and indirectly light the paths. To create this effect a standard bullet style fixture lamped with a 70-watt ceramic arc tube metal halide PAR lamp was carefully mounted in the tree. Most lights were mounted at 20 to 30 feet above grade and as shown in this photo multiple lights were used in many trees. PHOTO COURTESY OF R. Andrew hoff

The Milton S. Hershey School, established as a school for orphans and disadvantaged children, is currently home to 1,100 students, making it the largest residential K-12 school in the United States.A few years ago, the school underwent a massive expansion project including new or renovated resident housing' improvements to the elementary school, middle school, high school, language learning center, library, Performance Gymnasium, Visual Arts Building, and Catherine Hall North and South, which house a variety of classrooms and hands-on learning labs.

As this expansion was about to begin, the school realized that the pathways and landscape of the campus should also be updated to accommodate the increase in student activity and the flow of traffic throughout the campus.

One of the key elements of the site's redesign was the integration of a new lighting system. Safety and security were two major concerns on a campus where young students would be utilizing the grounds at night. However, the school also wanted to have a system that could be easily maintained, yet fit in with the rural setting that defines the school. Four primary objectives – safety, security, convenience and aesthetics – were defined as required to achieve a successful campus lighting project.


For the Milton Hershey project, safety was defined as the ability to move about campus without causing accidental harm to oneself or others. For example, a student, faculty member, or visitor should be able to walk around campus without tripping over a curb or other obstacle.

The insert (left) shows a Graphical depiction of how a standard pole mounted fixture can leave dark spots to the side of a path. These fixtures (larger photo, left) are well lights manufacturered by Hydrel and lamped with 100-watt ceramic arc tube metal halide lamps. Ceramic metal halide lamps were chosen for their high color rendition to accent the foliage all year round. PHOTO COURTESY OF Alan wycheck Photography

Based on the fact that the average person is quite capable of walking outside under nothing more than a full moon, the light levels required for this objective were actually very low.

In general, once the human eye adjusts to a bright light level, it takes a long time to adapt to lower surrounding light levels. Keeping this fact in mind, the key to maintaining the clear visibility necessary to provide a safe environment for everyone was to keep the light levels uniform throughout the campus.


Security is often confused with safety, but for this project the design team made a clear distinction between the two by considering security to be more of a "sense of security."

A sense of security was defined as the freedom to move about the campus without the fear of harm from others. Creating a sense of security provides a comfortable feeling to those on the campus at night. Since crime also happens during the day, and there exists no proof that high light levels deter crime, the lighting system alone cannot be relied upon as a security device.

PHOTO COURTESY OF Alan wycheck Photography

Convicted criminals have often admitted that lights aided them in their illegal activities. So here again, the final light level was not dependent on a magical number but rather on creating a comfortable setting.


Convenience for both user and owner was the desired outcome for this lighting system. Convenience for the user meant possessing an easily defined layout. A hierarchy to the streets and paths to help define where people should be traveling and how to easily reach their destination was crucial to meeting the criteria. Convenience for the owner takes many forms, but the most prevalent is maintenance.

All of the components of a campus eventually deteriorate and require repair, maintenance, or replacement. As a lighting system ages, this deterioration can often lead to dark spots and other problems that can be potentially dangerous for the students, as well as a liability for the school. Given this information, it was key that the system installed on the Milton Hershey campus was easy to maintain.


The last objective was to devise a lighting system that was aesthetically pleasing during the day and night. Integrating the lighting system into the rural setting of this very large campus was key to the project's overall success.

If the lighting were too institutional or commercial, it would not blend with the surrounding community, which is a priority to the school. Because the systems had to meet all of the criteria stated above, quality equipment was an integral part of the design.

The Design

How did the lighting system achieve all of these objectives? A completely new way of thinking about the problem at hand was required. The designers had to reevaluate exactly what it was they were lighting. The main purpose of providing light is to allow a viewer to see an object. If light is provided to a sidewalk and not to its surroundings, potential victims are actually being spotlighted while dark areas are introduced for would-be attackers to hide in.

Traditional methods of lining a walk with light poles can produce shadows behind nearby shrubs. Potential attackers to harbor themselves can readily use these shadows. Therefore, this method would not fulfill our "sense of security" objective. However, if both the landscape and the walk are illuminated, these hiding spots are eliminated. Inherently, lighting every inch of the campus would be impossible. A system designed in such a fashion would be virtually impossible to successfully maintain, and would not be practical for blending with the residential community.

The insert (right) shows an a light fixture for lighting the vehicular streets. Utilizing standard components, the design team made modifications to create a custom cutoff fixture that provided the school with a unique look. PHOTOS COURTESY OF Keith Yancy and Andrew Hoff.

At this point, the design team refocused on the basic question of what they were lighting on the campus. The beautiful landscaping was clearly the answer. By lighting the landscape, views across campus could be opened to create visible objects in the distance, thus shedding the feeling of darkness surrounding viewers.

Lighting the trees and shrubs eliminated hiding spots for potential attackers. The spill light that bounced off of the landscape or went beyond the edge of the target, in turn provided the low-level lighting required for safety. With this concept in practice, a maintainable system highlighting the softscape to enhance the community while providing safety and a sense of security could be established.

This idea of indirectly lighting paths was used for all pedestrian areas; however, the vehicular drives also needed to be clearly defined. Since attackers hiding in the shrubs are not the main concern on a vehicular drive, a more traditional method of lighting was employed in these areas.

A low-scale decorative fixture was used to provide light to the roadway and intersecting paths, allowing drivers to quickly see approaching objects. The selected fixtures met the Illuminating Engineering Society criteria for a cutoff luminare, meaning the amount of light going into the sky is severely restricted. Limiting the amount of light distributed into the sky reduces light pollution and allows for clear viewing of the stars at night. The selected fixtures all have interchangeable parts and have tool-less entry for easy maintenance. The light fixtures were placed on only one side of each road to create a reinforcing visual pattern.

The final aspect of the overall campus design included lighting the buildings. Focal points were created around campus by illuminating specific building facades. These structures act as points of reference at night. New students often refer to major buildings during the day to find their way around campus. If these structures are not illuminated at night, the students lose their point of reference and may consequently lose their orientation.

A lighting pin model is used by engineers to show the patterns of light in various areas of campus. PHOTO COURTESY OF Keith Yancy.

Highlighting selective buildings such as Founder's Hall, the Clock Tower, and the group of buildings known as the Town Center add to the convenience of the lighting system for its users.

The Result

The final result is a multi-layered lighting system that provides user-friendly lighting cues to create aesthetically pleasing views of the landscape and structures on the Milton Hershey campus.

Focusing on lighting the landscape and structures rather than the pathways moved attention away from pedestrians and reduced potential hiding spots to create an overall sense of security. Defining the driving lanes with a traditional lighting system from one side of the road quickly establishes a hierarchy about paths and roads that make the campus easy to navigate at night. Highlighting the buildings creates points of reference and provides orientation to new visitors, adding to the convenience of the complete system. Careful fixture selection limits the number of fixture and lamp types while ensuring easy maintenance by utilizing interchangeable parts and tool-less entry fixtures.

For the Milton Hershey School campus lighting, going back to the basics led to an innovative design solution. Many thanks to the complete design teams at Brinjac Engineering (lighting designers) and WRT (Landscape Architects). Special thanks to Keith Yancey, PE, LC, and Ken Gignac, LARCH.

Shawn Good, PE, LC is the Lighting Department Manager at Brinjac Engineering

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June 18, 2019, 7:07 am PDT

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