Faulty gaskets turn out lights in arches over Howard Street

July 13, 1999|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Don't blame the people. Blame the poles.

A spokesman for the Baltimore Department of Public Works said yesterday that city workers should not be criticized for failing to replace more than 300 burned-out bulbs in the decorative arches over the Howard Street retail district.

The arches, which were raised in 1986 as part of a $6.5 million effort to brighten the struggling strip, have a "fundamental design flaw" that is making the bulbs burn out too quickly, said Kurt Kocher, department spokesman.

The lights have drawn criticism from area merchants, who wonder how the city will persuade developers to invest $350 million building apartments and shops on Howard Street as part of the westside renewal plan if the city doesn't do routine housekeeping.

A preliminary investigation by the public works department found that a flaw in the gaskets surrounding the lights is allowing moisture to seep into them, Kocher said. This causes the bulbs to burn out in about three months instead of their normal life span of about 3 1/2 years, he said.

The city replaced the bulbs in April, but by July about half had gone out, Kocher said. Some had bad timers or circuit breakers, he said. The city will fix the problem as soon as possible and replace all bulbs and gaskets, he said.

Kocher said he did not know whether the city would try to hold the manufacturer of the lights, Elwood City Iron and Wire Co. of Pennsylvania, or the vendor, Chesapeake Lighting Co. of Columbia, responsible for the failure.

But the designer, David DuTot of the Delta Group of Philadelphia, said yesterday the city never has mentioned any design flaws in the arches in the 13 years since they were installed.

Alvin Levi, president of Howard Street Jewelers at 112 N. Howard St., said he is happy the city has decided to fix the lights.

"It's wonderful to see that the public works department has read the book of Genesis and has found that light is good," said Levi.

Pub Date: 7/13/99

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