A bright future for lights atop the Berks County Courthouse?

A bright future for lights atop the Berks County Courthouse?

READING, Pa. - There could be a bright future in store for the Berks County Courthouse.

Longtime residents are rallying to bring back the lights atop Reading's tallest building.

County officials received a second opinion Thursday after they pulled the plug on the decades-old tradition.   

A group of contractors scaled the courthouse to shed some light on the problem that left the center city landmark in the dark.

Commissioner Christian Leinbach and county officials provided the tour. They were in search of a cost-effective quote to get the lights on the courthouse back on.

"They're looking at this and going to recommend broadly their spec and it will be a range what they think the project can be done for," said Leinbach.

69 News first reported Monday the county commissioners voted unanimously not to replace the lights, which shined bright above the city for 80 years, to save money. They were quoted $122,000 for new LED color lights and $72,000 for white lights from an energy savings company.

Mike Piltz, of Lehigh County-based Entertainment Services Group Inc., helped light the PPL Building in Allentown. He grew up in Longswamp Township, Berks County, and can remember what the lights looked like above the courthouse. When he saw the story on 69 News earlier this week, he emailed the county to get the ball rolling.

"Hearing about a building not being lit up really struck us and we decided maybe we can help at least take a look at the project to see if there is a more cost-effective way to work on it," said Piltz.

Piltz toured the courthouse along with Todd Rutledge, director of commercial construction for Fromm Electric, and Andrew Lacey, president of Lacey Electric. The three companies pitched a possible collaborative effort to complete the project at a lower cost.

"If it can come in at a significant less number for the white lights, I would reconsider," said Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt.

The original lights were bolted atop the courthouse and started shining bright not long after construction of the building was completed in 1932.

Russ Cambria, a long-time Berks County resident, created the Facebook page, "Turn the Courthouse Lights Back On." It already has hundreds of likes. Now, he is in talks with the Berks History Center to raise money to keep the tradition.

Cambria said he recalls his grandfather, a downtown attorney, telling him about the tradition of the courthouse lights forecasting the weather based on their colors: all blue for continued fair weather; all red for continued storms; top red and corners blue for stormy to fair; and top blue and corners red for clear to stormy.

Earlier money-saving efforts brought an end to the tradition of forecasting the weather in the 1990s, but the lights continued to be turned on at dusk each night by a member of the courthouse security staff.

The lights were taken down in the spring of 2013 for a multi-million dollar facelift project.

County officials said they expect to receive the new estimates in a few weeks. Leinbach said it would not be a formal proposal and the process would have to be vetted.

"We have an obligation to balance aesthetics against who is paying the bill, and the taxpayers are the ones paying the bill," said Leinbach.

Images: A bright future for the Berks County Courthouse lights?

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