04-04-18 | Feature
Lighting up History
Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart, Omaha, Neb.

Editor, Greg Frank, LASN


At the Duchesne Academy, in Omaha, Neb., donors were originally focused on illuminating only the main building, but Jerry McKay suggested the courtyard also receive lighting. Each ash, honey locust and maple tree in this courtyard is retrofitted with a single SLX16 Mariner light fixture manufactured by Auroralight. They contain 4.5-watt bulbs and provide a 60-degree beam spread. The fixtures are solid copper and brass in a bullet-style, and strategically placed in the mulch beds so that they are less likely to be hit by a mower. Furthermore, each fixture is raised off the ground 5" to anticipate leaves falling off the deciduous trees.

Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Omaha, Neb. is a historic, all girls, preparatory high school that was built more than 135 years ago. The lighting for the campus was assumedly that old as well. That was until a generous donation, made by the parents of a student at the school, funded a complete renovation of the campus lighting.

McKay Lighting, a landscape lighting company founded in 1992 and also based in Omaha, was contracted to do the job. The couple that made the donation knew the owner, Jerry McKay, and suggested him for the task of retrofitting the campus.


This archway was installed over 100 years ago and had some natural decay. It was very important to the installation team that this archway remained intact and undisturbed; therefore, no lights were mounted on either the stairs or the archway. The foundation is sandstone. To light this area, conduit was run from the left and right sides, up to the corners of the stairs - but without touching the foundation.

Because of the school's age, extra caution was taken when installing certain fixtures; especially on the original campus archway that is over 100 years old. McKay and his team wanted to preserve the integrity of the campus, while also providing cost and energy efficient lighting with increased safety throughout. The span of their work covered the entire campus, which equates to the size of one city block.

To begin this undertaking, a 6-man team worked with a local electric company to change the 120-watt high-voltage lights to all new low-voltage LEDs; a move that effectively eliminated nearly 3,000 watts of power. As a result of this switch, the school saves about $435 a year.


One of the main challenges for the team was lighting the five-story schoolhouse with only low voltage bulbs. McKay used 20-watt light bulbs and 15 LSL4 Sitka brass fixtures (Auroralight) on the main building. They deliver beam spreads at either 40 (wide) or 60 (wide flood) degrees depending on how close they were installed to the building. The fixtures have integrated drainage to prevent water from pooling on the lens.

Additionally, before installing new low-voltage fixtures, McKay and his team replaced some of the high-pressure sodium vapor street lamps that encircled the property. These lights created different colors, temperatures and hues that did not match what McKay had planned for the project.

Once the lights were replaced with more efficient ones, the team worked for three weeks to add an additional 185 low-voltage LEDs and 265 LED bistro lights.

To ensure voltage drop was kept to a minimum, McKay placed seven transformers, located centrally for each zone of the job. One corner of the campus was 300 feet away from the nearest transformer, and the crew had to carefully hand dig shallow conduits to get wire all the way out there. However, even for this long distance, this section did not see much voltage drop, said McKay.


The bistro lights used for the second story patio would normally be used for a bar or restaurant, said McKay. To string the 265 LED Bistro lights above the rooftop patio, the team had to attach three solid steel poles to the brick pillars, and then string the lights from these poles to the main building. There is 2 feet of space between each light. Three timers were installed because the patio primarily serves as an event space. Once the project was completed, a donor party was held on this rooftop, which was illuminated by the new bistro lights.

One interesting fact about this job: there were no path lights installed anywhere on the campus. Instead, McKay and the lead project designer, Andrew Coleman, opted to incorporate 18 moonlights (Auroralight) to brighten the walkways. The effect highlighted the grandeur of campus, and encourages pedestrians to look at the building and trees, rather than at the path.

As a result of this three-week project, Duchesne has been moved "out of the shadows" and into the spotlight. The all-girls preparatory high school is now a safer and more illuminate campus, whose minds and edifices will shine for years to come.

As seen in LASN magazine, April 2018.

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