Getting wired for the holiday

Volunteers will be working long hours this week to prepare Washington Park for the ultimate light sh

Categories: Schenectady County

Volunteers will be working long hours this week to prepare Washington Park for the ultimate light show later this month: the 17th annual Capital Holiday Lights.

When finished, the drive-through show will feature some 200 multi-colored displays of French hens, maids a-milking, lords a-leaping, along with the Statue of Liberty, doctors and others characters in keeping with this year’s theme, “Celebrate Our Differences.”

The show is the main fund-raiser for the Albany Police Athletic League, bringing in approximately $160,000 for after school programs that serve more than 4,000 children in grades three through eight, said Leonard R. Ricchiuti Jr., PAL executive director and a retired sergeant with the APD.

The show runs Nov. 27 through Jan. 2. Hours are 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The show goes on unless there is a snow emergency.

Ricchiuti said the show attracts approximately 20,000 carloads of people who pay $15 per vehicle at the gate or $10 in advance through the show’s sponsor, Hannaford Supermarkets.

Hundreds of volunteers have been working since mid-September to prepare Washington Park for the displays, said Carlo Figliomeni, senior electrical inspector for the city of Albany and a longtime volunteer. “I started the weekend after Labor Day, me and a couple of guys. The volunteers start coming after Columbus Day,” he said.

The prep work is immense. The volunteers, many of them professional electricians, carpenters and members of other trades, will install 33 electrical panels, 20 transformers and 800 receptacles and have run 50,000 feet of light line and 30 miles of branch circuit wiring, Figliomeni said.

The displays, mounted on metal frames, some 20-feet tall, will draw 5,000 amps, costing $2,000 for the show’s duration, Ricchiuti said. The average home, by contrast, has a maximum load of 200 amps.

The show has always been based in Washington Park, which Ricchiuti called perfect for the displays. “Along every turn, around every hill, you see something different. We call it the ‘ooo and ahh’ effect from the sounds children make when they see the displays.”

Displays will line 1.5 miles of road inside the park. At the end of the trip is the Lake House, and inside is Santa with live reindeer [Wednesday and Sunday nights], vendors, carnival rides, balloon sculptures, face painting and more.

“It is a family show,” Ricchiuti said. “We are serving families.”

Robert O’Keefe, 33, a licensed electrician, said he has volunteered to set up displays for 10 years. “At the beginning, I got some experience in wiring. Now, I enjoy doing it,” he said. “I will work every Saturday until the show starts.”

Figliomeni was an original volunteer who helped former Albany Police Chief Robert Wolfgang launch the show 17 years ago. “He came to me in September and asked if we could do it. I told him he was crazy, but we did it,” he said.

Figliomeni said the effort was made possible by reaching out to the community.

At the time, Washington Park was not wired for outdoor displays. Over the years, volunteers installed four miles of underground wire for the annual show. Volunteers install the panels, transformers, receptacles and other items just for the show. Their removal takes about 15 days once the show closes, O’Keefe said.

In addition to the new theme, PAL this year is experimenting with low-energy lighting devices. “We are going green,” Ricchiuti said. The LED lights, however, do not pack the brightness of regular bulbs, but it is a start.

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