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Akron Zoo outdoor sign made up of large yellow letters with uplighting on each letter at night

Case Studies

Akron Zoo Shines At Night

Everybody loves the zoo, right?

That’s certainly the case in Akron, Ohio, where the Zoo welcomed more than 360,000 people through its gates in 2018. In recent years, the Akron Zoo has invested to increase its physical size, its number and diversity of animal habitats, and its overall quality of experience for visitors young and old.

As part of these efforts, the Zoo has grown its nighttime programming. Offerings now range from the annual “Boo at the Zoo” and “Wild Lights” events for families, to “Brew at the Zoo” and “Wild for Wine,” events just for adults. The Zoo also offers several spaces that can be reserved for after-hours events such as parties and corporate outings. 

With this growth, Zoo leadership has recognized a need to upgrade its landscape lighting. But with the budgetary limitations of a non-profit, they’ve had to focus on other projects. “We always have to choose what to prioritize,” said Linda Criss, VP, Communications, Akron Zoo. “The lighting was something we wanted to take care of, but with limited resources and competing needs, it just wasn’t at the top of our list.”

Kichler Steps In To Help

During the run-up to its busy 2019 summer season, however, the Zoo received a call from Ron Carter, Senior Corporate Trainer at Kichler. Ron was in the thick of planning for a three-day “Light and Learn” educational event at Kichler’s Cleveland headquarters in August. The event would host landscape lighting installers, business owners, and distributors from around the country. 

Ron asked if the Zoo could help him host a session for the installers. It would be a win-win: Kichler would redesign landscape lighting for in-need areas of the Zoo, donate and install the spec’d fixtures. The installation work, meanwhile, would be a valuable training activity for the visiting contractors.  

“I just thought the Zoo would be a great place to have the event,” said Ron. “It’s a large public place that serves the community. With all its after-hours programming, we knew they would benefit. And, of course it would give the installers a chance to get some experience. The Zoo was more than receptive to the proposal!”

A dream team of landscape lighting experts visits the Zoo

In May 2019, Ron visited the Zoo along with Paul Gosselin of Nightscenes Landscape Lighting of Austin, Texas, and Tommy Herren of The Lighting Geek of Sacramento, California. Paul and Tommy were invited by Kichler to add their landscape lighting expertise to the project. 

Together, they scoped out two opportunities for landscape lighting upgrades. 

One was a space called Lehner Family Zoo Gardens. A site for many after-hours events, the Gardens boasts more than 7,000 native plants and a 60-foot long pergola covered in wisteria. 

Another opportunity was the set of large, freestanding letters that spell out “AKRON ZOO.” Referred to affectionately by staff as the “Hollywood sign,” the letters stand next to one of the Zoo’s main entrances as a beacon. “About 80 percent of our visitors pass the sign on their way through our gates,” said Criss.

Close up on "Akron" part of the Akron Zoo sign, bright yellow letters with lights shining on each letter at night
Close up on the lights pointing at each letter of the Akron Zoo sign outdoors during the day

A Plan To Transform

These areas had existing lighting. However, the fixtures were old and weathered through years of exposure to northern Ohio winters. Many simply no longer worked. 

Ron recalled the state of affairs at the signage: “There were a couple fixtures with R20 lamps mounted to PVC poles stuck in the ground about five feet in front of the sign. The poles were crooked due to ground shift, so they weren’t illuminating the letters very well. These big letters are painted a brilliant yellow, and the lighting simply wasn’t doing them justice. So we decided to attach each fixture right onto the framework for the letters. This way, ground shift and lawn maintenance would never be an issue.”

“We considered safety first,” said Paul, about the Gardens and pergola. “Our top design priority would be to make sure everything was properly illuminated, and do so using spread lenses and shields to eliminate glare. Then we talked about how to make it just look really awesome. The pergola, for instance, is covered in blue/purple vegetation, and we wanted to light it up to make it look dramatic.”

Akron Zoo's walking path at night with overhanging vines with uplighting
Close up of a tree light pointing upwards

An Afternoon Of Work … And Education

The installation took place on the final day of the Light and Learn event. Undoubtedly drawing curious looks from many of the Zoo’s permanent residents, approximately 60 landscape lighting installers and business owners arrived, split into teams, and set to work. 

In an intense two hours, the teams installed 103 Kichler Integrated LED path and accent light fixtures. All fixtures feature Kichler’s Variable Lumen Output (VLO) technology, which allows adjustment of the lumen output depending on the application. Where needed, installers used Kichler landscape lighting accessories. Each letter of the sign, for instance, is now illuminated by an accent light; these are mounted on 24-inch stems attached directly to each letter. 

The retail value of the donated fixtures and accessories was $19,500, with another estimated $13,000 for the 250 man-hours of planning and installation labor.

Paul, who is author of the Landscape Lighting Guide for contractors, stressed the importance of the event as an educational opportunity. “Tommy, Ron, and I made sure everyone kept busy and took opportunities to learn new things. Those opportunities included not only understanding how to install and set up LED lighting, but fundamental skills such as how to install and wire a transformer, for instance. We aimed to teach contractors how to do it, and do it well.”

A man installing lights on the Akron Zoo sign
A person drilling into a post at the Akron Zoo

A Win For Energy Efficiency And Low Maintenance

The Zoo’s benefit will extend well beyond an enhanced user experience. The 103 installed LED fixtures use a total of 468 watts—the equivalent of just eight 60-watt incandescent bulbs. This energy savings will not only help the Zoo manage utility costs, but align with its commitment to environmental sustainability. 

And as the LEDs are sealed and potted within the fixtures—the variable lumen output is adjusted using a magnetic key that doesn’t require breaking the fixture’s seal—the Zoo’s ongoing investment in maintenance is minimal. The lighting will delight visitors for years to come.

“Support such as Kichler’s is vital to the Zoo’s success,” said Linda. “We’ve had a couple of evening events since the installation, and I’ve heard comments on how lovely these spaces look. The whole experience has been very positive, and the Zoo is very grateful to Kichler and the contractors.”

Consider it just one more reason to love the zoo!

Interested in Landscape Lighting or Visiting Akron?

Get more information about Kichler Integrated LED and VLO technology or stop by the Zoo (preferably at night) to see lighting in action.

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