Seeing the Huntsman Center under a New Light


By Shaun Daniel, Sustainability Resource Center

Fans attending home games at the Jon M. Huntsman Center this year, like this week’s matchups between Utah and Idaho State or Utah and BYU (7 p.m. on Wednesday and 12 p.m. on Saturday, respectively), will see the game in a new light. Literally.

Gone are the old metal halide lamps that took 10 minutes or more to warm up. A redesigned court, updated sound system, and new ceiling curtains will likely draw more immediate notice, but that’s in part because of how beautifully lit the space is. Banks of light emitting diodes (LEDs) have replaced the spaceship-like “cloud.”

Beginning the renovation of the 43 year-old Huntsman Center. Photo courtesy Stadium & Arena Event Services.

Beginning renovations on the 55-year-old Huntsman Center. Photo courtesy Stadium & Arena Event Services.

At the end of spring semester, University Facilities Management and Stadium & Arena Event Services began the project to upgrade the 55-year-old building. Crews worked in earnest to finish the project by Oct. 15. The effort included a bonus changeover of the concourse lighting to LED as well.

“We want to be good stewards in the building,” says Aaron White, associate director of operations who oversaw the project.

Shireen Ghorbani, communications specialist with Facilities Management, says, “The new lighting in the Huntsman Arena brings major improvements to the audience experience while also bringing energy savings to the space. We couldn’t be happier with how the lights are performing, and the upgrade has actually brought a little national attention our way.”

ESPN named the newly refurbished Huntsman Center in a list of top 10 court designs in college basketball.

The renovated Huntsman Center. Photo courtesy Stadium & Arena Event Services.

The renovated Huntsman Center. Photo courtesy Stadium & Arena Event Services.

In fact, the new lighting allows the Huntsman Center to meet the needs of television networks like ESPN for adequate illumination on the court. Whereas the metal halides offered 100 foot-candles on the floor, the LEDs provide 220 foot-candles.

The change to LEDs will also allow more flexibility in lighting options, such as the potential for darkening the arena for player introductions or, in the future, incorporating colors with special diodes. White says that a fan recently mentioned that one of the new fixtures was shining in her eyes. Stadium & Arena Event Services is able to adjust that, something not possible with the old system.

“The lights look great,” says Mark Burk, director of Stadium & Arena Event Services. “Everyone is super happy with the new lighting.”

Facilities Management is now exploring utility rebate opportunities on the fixtures. Yet, even absent rebates, the lighting project’s payback time is calculated at six years. According to Burk, they are anticipating energy savings of 25 percent per year with the new LEDs.

The money saved is also a great business decision. As part of Auxiliary Services, Stadium & Arena Event Services keep the Huntsman Center and Rice-Eccles Stadium self-supporting through revenue. Burk says that $100,000 was saved per year by switching to a central computer system in Rice-Eccles Stadium to coordinate lights, HVAC, etc. A similar system is planned for the Huntsman Center.

As the largest arena in the PAC-12, the updates to the Huntsman Center extend the life of this celebrated venue, well known for hosting 81 NCAA Tournament games, including the 1979 face-off between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. The spirit of efficiency continues into the addition of curtains, which allow for smarter use of the arena’s space, thus avoiding a need to construct an events space smaller than the Huntsman but bigger than Kingsbury Hall.

The University of Utah is a member of the Green Sports Alliance, a non-profit organization whose mission is to help enhance the environmental performance of sports teams, venues and leagues. According to Green Sports Alliance’s count, the Huntsman Center is one of only 18 sports stadiums and arenas in the country to have upgraded to high performance LEDs—a distinction that puts the U’s arena in the company of the Staples Center and the Purcell Pavillion.

The Utes Volleyball team plays on the renovated court.

The Utah Volleyball team on the new court this year. Photo from U of U Instagram.

Ghorbani comments, “As a department, Energy Management is always looking for ways to incorporate more efficient lighting in sports, classroom, and research spaces on campus.”

Other athletic facilities on campus are moving toward more efficient lighting, too. LED lights were recently installed in the Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center’s practice field area, with dramatic results. In May of this year, the Spence-Eccles Field House also switched over to LEDs.

“They have been fantastic,” says facility manager Andrew Brauzer. “We’ve seen an immediate $1,500 monthly savings from the power bill alone, without factoring any of the maintenance savings.” He adds that the tennis and gymnastics facilities have also been identified as possibilities for LED upgrades in the future.

The mission statement of Stadium & Arena Event Services is to “provide an excellent entertainment experience for each guest.” By highlighting the action on the court, no doubt the recent upgrades to the Huntsman Center will help to fulfill that aim.

See full schedules for U of U sports here:

Shaun Daniel is a graduate student in Environmental Humanities and a graduate assistant in the Sustainability Resource Center.

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