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Lights out! Top of Berks County Courthouse in downtown Reading darkened to save money

By Ryan Hughes, Reporter, RHughes@wfmz.com
69 News, (follow: @69news), news@wfmz.com
Published On: Jun 23 2014 12:59:42 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 23 2014 05:33:52 PM CDT

While the Pagoda atop Mount Penn may be the most familiar feature of Reading's skyline, the Berks County Courthouse should certainly be a close second.

READING, Pa. -

Berks County officials have turned off the switch on a decades-old tradition, which will dramatically change Reading's skyline at night.

The Berks County Courthouse will be left in the dark in an effort to save money, said officials.

The county commissioners voted unanimously in the fall to turn off the lights atop the courthouse, but the public has just learned of the decision.

"It's not just about the lights for me. It was a symbol of our region," said Russ Cambria, who spent most of his life in Berks County.

Cambria calls the Berks County Courthouse the heartbeat of Reading. He said the lights shining on top at night are a beacon of hope in a city that is desperate for brighter days.

"Even though things were bad, that light was shining. There was hope. There was a future for Reading," said Cambria.

"I truly think that it's a disservice. It's our courthouse. It's the center of our metropolis, and it's the county seat," said Corrie Crupi, an active community member.

The unique lights started shining bright on top of the courthouse not long after its construction was completed in 1932.

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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.

Commisioner Kevin Barnhardt said the lights came down recently during renovations. They were in ill repair and to replace them it would cost about $122,000 for new LED color lights and about $72,000 for white lights.

"We're spending multiple millions of dollars on the services center renovations and the courthouse upgrades, so we felt that was kind of money we didn't need to spend of the taxpayers' dollar," said Barnhardt, who added he was aware the decision would not be a popular one. "You don't make everybody happy in this job, but you try to do what you think is best for the majority of taxpayers."

"I'm glad they're looking at the expenses and I just only hope that they can find some way to keep the lights lit," said Crupi.

Commissioner Christian Leinbach agreed that amount of money cannot be justified, but he asked to revisit the issue and get a second quote on new lights. He told 69 News he was out-voted and the lights will not return to the courthouse.

What's your take on the county's decision to darken the top of the courthouse? You can email us at yourtake@wfmz.com or leave a message at 610-871-0074. We also invite you to share your memories of the lights and their long tradition of forecasting the weather.

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