By Paul Augeri

MIDDLETOWN – The eight light towers at Palmer Field, first installed in the 1960s, will be replaced in time for the coming high school baseball season.

“The goal is to be done by the middle of April,” said Bill Russo, the city’s director of public works.

The cost for the $780,000 upgrade will be covered by a transfer of funds from the Hubbard Park improvements fund, Russo said. In the last two years, the lights, fencing, restrooms and concessions area were upgraded at Hubbard’s two Little League fields.

Hubbard Park will not be impacted by having the available money, which will be available this week, redirected for the work at Palmer Field, Russo said.

An upgrade to Palmer Field’s lighting system has been on officials’ radar since the launch of the 21st Century Parks Project four years ago.

The city brought in Jay Silva of Silva Engineering in Willimantic for a structural analysis of the 110-foot steel poles at Palmer Field. Silva found that the poles would not resist strong winds, and the safety risk this would pose forced the city to move quickly.

“When he came back to say that the poles didn’t meet the wind speed of today’s codes, I knew we could not keep people in the park under those circumstances,” Russo said. “Once an engineer tells you something does not meet code and is not up to standards, you have to act on it.”

The last true upgrade to the lighting system was done just before Palmer Field served as host site for the 1988 American Legion World Series, Russo said. At the suggestion of ESPN, which re-aired the games, lights were added to the outfield towers to improve brightness, which made for a better TV experience.

Of late, Russo said deterioration inside the towers had become a concern.

“Over the last couple of years we’ve had three failures inside the poles,” he said, “where the electrical work needed to be gutted and new wiring had to be installed. Each year we lost a pole and we’d bring electricians in and rewire the work, so even the insides were getting tired.”

The new system will be implemented by Musco Sports Lighting, whose work is on display at the baseball and softball diamonds at Pat Kidney Field and the multi-use field on Hunting Hill Avenue. Musco’s LED technology and light-control system work to eliminate glare and spill.

According to Russo, the towers on the first- and third-base lines at Palmer Field will be relocated behind the grandstand areas. There no longer will be obstructed views in these areas. Meanwhile, the tower near the deck in the left-field corner will be relocated to the grassy area behind that area.

“The only work we’ll see is a crane working to take the poles down and at same time installing the new ones,” Russo said.

The first high school game of the year at Palmer Field, between Xavier and Immaculate of Danbury, is scheduled for April 4. As in past years, thousands will turn out in early June for the CIAC semifinals and championships games.

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