Town Hall sign: Can electronics fit with historical preservation?
By Wayne E. Rivet
Use of an electronic message board on the Bridgton Town Hall grounds on North High Street is still in play.
While selectmen initially were somewhat cool to the idea of replacing the current events board with modern technology at last week’s board meeting, they remained open-minded if an aesthetically-pleasing sign could be found.
The town budgeted $12,000 to purchase an electronic sign to replace a wooden announcement board outside the Town Hall on North High Street.
Some residents, however, voiced disapproval, feeling the electronic board would not mesh well with the “historic” hall property.
Selectman Bob McHatton said some people suggested that the town could look into installing electronic signs at two outer points of town, possibly near Venezia Italian Restaurant on North High Street and in the area of Paris Farmers Union.
McHatton encouraged the board to decide whether to seriously look at the electronic sign issue or dump it, and not waste town planner Anne Krieg’s time seeking out additional information and prices.
Selectman Bernie King wondered how much “modernization” is needed at the town hall, and he disagreed with McHatton as to positioning signs at the eastern and western travel points of town.
“I think it would be a little too distracting,” King said. “It should be in one place…I really don’t want the electronic sign.”
Board Chairman Greg Watkins pointed to the town’s sign ordinance that dictates where the electronic sign can be located — Pondicherry Square to the Naples town line.
“I don’t feel it would be best suited in front of the town hall,” Watkins said. “I do understand the convenience (electronic signs provide) compared to making changes out there during the winter. I’m sensitive to that.”
Town Manager Robert Peabody said early discussions regarding use of an electronic sign first surfaced at the town’s Community Development Committee meetings.
“We’re not very good at getting information out on what’s going on in town. That type of sign is effective in getting messages out,” Peabody said. “Talking with the rec director, there is a constant change of events at the town hall, which requires to go out there and constantly change that sign. People become accustomed to looking toward that sign for events.”
Peabody added “it was given a great deal of thought” to consider an electronic board, but “it’s whatever the board decides.”
Currently, electronic signs are used at the Magic Lantern Theatre, Hancock Lumber and McDonald’s.
Selectman Bear Zaidman asked that town officials look into whether there are electronic boards that “don’t look electronic — smoother, you don’t look at a bunch of little light bulbs” that might “fit” at the town hall. Zaidman wondered if sign companies might send selectmen a CD or video that illustrates various sign styles as well as lettering brightness.
“Nothing bright and dazzling,” he added. “Is there an electronic sign that is aesthetically pleasing that would fit in that situation?”
Watkins figures if sign companies are looking to make a sale, they would likely be willing to send promotional material to help lure Bridgton to a possible buy.
Rec Director Gary Colello said the outside framing, which the electronic board would sit within, would be in style with the town hall structure. As for the board itself, Colello said the range of options is wide.
“You could get one with 200 colors or one that is just black and white,” he said. “From my understanding, you can turn down the (lighting) brightness. You can also use other colors to take that brightness down.”
Colello questioned selectmen as to whether they were simply concerned about brightness or about content? He pointed out the sign could include just words or it could also utilize photos and graphics as backgrounds.
“What do you need this sign to do?” Zaidman asked.
Mainly, to get information out to the public, Colello responded.
“Do you need pictures?” Zaidman asked.
Colello doesn’t see any real benefit to using pictures as part of the messages.
“I think it would be more of a distraction,” he said. “It takes me about an hour to change the words during the winter. It’s quite a bit of work to climb through the snow piles and take care of it.”
Peabody noted that because it can be cumbersome to make changes, the existing message board is not updated as frequently during the winter months.
“I started advertising Halloween (party) at the start of October, and nothing else was going up on the sign,” Colello said.
An electronic sign allows for several messages to be displayed and “cycled through.”
King would support an electronic sign if it “didn’t burn out your retinas” and it would fit within a similar frame to what exists today.
While Watkins understands the need, he again referenced the town’s sign ordinance as to what is allowable.
Peabody clarified the matter saying, “statutorily, those ordinances do not apply to the town” and nor would the town be required to go to the planning board for approval.
Town office staff will research sign options and bring information back to selectmen at a future meeting.