2017-08-10 / Around Town

Washington Square Newly Illuminated

By Christopher Allen


Literally, a capstone to improvements in the square, members of the Washington Square Advisory Committee and city officials gathered in a celebration for the installation of the new LED lighting atop the historic lamp posts. The new lighting comes on the heels of the new café tables, chairs and wooden park benches along the paths. 
(Photos byLynne Tungett) Literally, a capstone to improvements in the square, members of the Washington Square Advisory Committee and city officials gathered in a celebration for the installation of the new LED lighting atop the historic lamp posts. The new lighting comes on the heels of the new café tables, chairs and wooden park benches along the paths. (Photos byLynne Tungett) There is electricity in the square. With lanterns to match.

With the upgrading of Washington Square all but complete, the wait since 2014 for completion of the planned gas-lamp-to-LED conversion in Eisenhower Park is over. “They are beautiful,” said Lilly Dick, chair of the Washington Square Advisory Committee.

Dick has been at the forefront of Washington Square’s redevelopment for more than a decade. She said that the old gas lamps installed in 1994 during the filming of Steven Spielberg's “Amistad” came with cumbersome maintenance and upkeep. “It’s been a long time coming,” she said. “[The lights] will be in keeping with the aesthetic of the park. They are in compatibility with the restoration project.”

The installation of 11 units was approved by the City Council as part of a citywide initiative to update and maintain the many historic streetlights throughout Newport. The council, in a resolution passed in 2014, pledged to keep the aesthetic quality of historic street lighting, while utilizing LED technology to move toward a more energy efficient program. Although having a higher upfront cost per unit, LED bulbs last many more hours and provide greater luminosity. The new LED lights are in accordance with Dark Sky standards, an international campaign to reduce light pollution and energy use.

“This is such an addition to the life and activity of Washington Square,” said Liz Drayton, secretary for the board of directors of The Newport Performing Arts Center. “For modern days, [the gas lamps] are not bright enough,” though, said Drayton, keeping the historic character of the park was always a priority.

The Washington Square Advisory Committee met with Building and Grounds Supervisor, Scott Wheeler in Eisenhower Park on Aug. 3 to discuss final implementation. Wheeler has acted as ex officio member of the WSAC, working alongside the all-volunteer group for years. “[The new lamps] will be the same stylistically as the gas, purchased retrofitted with high efficiency LED lights,” Wheeler said.

An initial bid went out for the project; however, there were no bidders. “The city took on the job of general contractor,” Wheeler said. “We had to go to plan B.” He said the subsequent arrangement helped lower costs and give his team greater flexibility. “It’s easier to have control when your staff is doing the work.”

The project is majority-funded through a Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Grant. The Washington Square Advisory Committee, after careful consideration of the issue, recommended that the lights be changed. Public Service officials drafted a report outlining in broad scope a plan to maintain the city’s beloved historic streetlights.

Of concern at the time of the 2014 passage was public safety, as street lamps provide vital illumination to nighttime pedestrians, many of whom work late hours in the square’s bustling service industry. The interim between the removal of the old gas lamps and the installation of the new LED lights had left the popular park in semi-darkness.

Debralee Ionucci, a waitress with the new Gurney’s Resort on Goat Island, welcomes the new lighting. “After I finish work in the restaurant, it’s late,” she said. “A well-lit walkway provides a bit of security.”

Kathy Staab, owner of the Jane Pickens Theater and Event Center on Touro Street and a Washington Square Advisory Committee member, welcomed the added security for Jane Pickens customers, who are often exiting the theater late in the evening. “We’ve been working toward this for about five years,” she said. “This will benefit our customers, who often have to cross back and forth through the park at night.”

Everyone involved with the lighting project agrees that public safety and comfort will be improved with LED. The city installed the same lights recently in Queen Anne Square, a project Wheeler referred to as a “test case” for future use. “We want to make our urban spaces safe at night. And do it in a way that reduces maintenance costs,” said Wheeler.

“There will always be a place for gaslights,” Wheeler said “As for LED, in certain public spaces, it is the right technology.”

Dick concurred. “We’ll be giving pedestrians a feeling of safety and comfort,” she said. She agrees with the consensus that the new LED lights will strike an important balance between preservation and modernization. “It’s not about having the bright lights, but having the right lights,” she said.

Return to top