With the signs on Foxborough’s Town Common in need of repair, Bob Russell of the Foxboro Lions Club suggested at a recent Board of Selectmen meeting to upgrade the downtown signage to electronic.
“I was working with [DPW Director Roger Hill] on [the plan to repair the Town Common signs] and Roger came up with the idea to go to the electronic signs because the current signs are starting to buckle and they’re starting to get old,” Russell said.
The 18-year-old signs on the Common are “tired,” according to Russell with the metal fading and beginning to chip. Russell says replacing these signs to its 1995 form will not be easy and, perhaps more importantly, won’t come cheap.
“Repair is quite expensive,” Russell said. … “The only way to renovate the signs are to remove them from the Common … take them somewhere, have them repaired and bring them back. It’s quite an expense.”
Russell researched the benefit of upgrading the town’s signs on the Common to electric and shared the following selectmen at the Jan. 8 board meeting:
- Signs can be operated from a remote location, i.e. Town Hall.
- More messages can be displayed.
- Brightness of signs can be adjusted.
- LEDs are inexpensive and easier to replace than the current letters the town uses to post messages on the Common.
- While Russell and Hill have not come up with a funding plan for the potential project, they have put together a cost structure of electronic signs.
- “The total cost of the signs will range from $20,000 to $23,000,” Russell said. “There’s a couple of different variations in it.”
Russell said the Foxboro Lions Club will be able to support between $5,000 and $6,000 for changing the metal on the signs. The town will likely fund the remaining $16,000 to $18,000.
If the town opts to just repair the current signs, Foxborough will need to have those signs entirely remade, which costs $2,000 to $3,000 to remove and replace each of them. The sign itself is “probably” in the range of $3,5000 to $5,000, according to Russell.
“The real big problem is the next time [the signs] start buckling,” Russell said. “We can do it now but the next time they start buckling you might not be able to do it and get more letters. Basically, every sign company I talk to really doesn’t want to deal with the present signs we have up there because they are all dealing with electronic and that’s why we thought we should start looking at doing something like this.”
Hill commended Russell and the Lions Club “for a tremendous amount of work” and told selectmen there’s a process in place for the potential project.
“Before we do anything else there are a few things we have to do,” Hill said. “Number one, the Board of Selectmen has to see what we are thinking of. Number two, we have to go to the Historical Commission and have them look at it and get their blessing on it. Then we have to figure out how to fund it.”
Hill said there’s no guarantee the project will happen but at the very least wanted to share the idea with selectmen.
“[Electronic signs] do work well for the DPW because we are the ones changing the signs out [now],” Hill said. “Letters are getting really difficult to replace.”
Town Manager Kevin Paicos said while there are benefits to modernizing the town’s Common; it is a sensitive issue that requires a lot of public input and discussion.
“New England Town Commons are very sensitive as we all know,” Paicos said. “We are not going to think of moving any further unless the community through [the Board of Selectmen] says this is something we are interested in.”
Paicos says if the public is interested in upgrading to electronic signs on the Common then funding the project wouldn’t be an issue.
“Those numbers [to fund electronic signs] are not cost prohibitive in any way,” Paicos said. “A lot of different ways we can fund it. The key here is do people like this? Do people want to see this on the Common?”
Town Historian Jack Authelet echoed Paicos’ point that changes to New England Town Commons are always a sensitive issue.
“I would be remised if I don’t mention the sacredness of the Common,” Authelet said. “[With the] many steps of the restoration [of the Town Common] and finally getting the memorials illuminated at night … that was the pinnacle to me. Darkness never falls on the names of those who served, fought and died for our country.”
While Authelet commended Russell and the Lions Club for the work they put in on studying the project, the town historian did express several concerns:
“Right now something goes up there for weeks,” Authelet said. “You drive by, you read it once, you don’t have to read it every day. If it changes every day or several times a day that’s a whole other issue. … It’s more of a passive sign.”
“On both ends of the Common you are bringing together three distinct flows of traffic,” Authelet said. “One glance at the signs are plenty before we get to the crosswalks. … To do something that would be more distractive it could be a real safety factor.”
Several town officials shared Authelet’s concerns.
“I appreciate the work and generosity [for this project],” said Foxborough Board of Selectmen chair James DeVellis. “I sat and looked at this and the first thing I said was has Jack Authelet [seen this?”
After hearing from Authelet, DeVellis shared his own concerns.
“My personal opinion as a selectman is I’m not crazy about electronic signage for a couple of reasons,” DeVellis said. “Coming down on either North or South on 140 into the Common and looking right at a sign that may or may not be changing is going to catch your attention. With crosswalks right there … rotaries … there’s a lot of stuff happening right there. I would love this if it were some place other than the Common. Unfortunately, everybody focuses on the Common because it gets the most attention.”
DeVellis also cited concerns about safety and asked that the Lions Club and DPW take a look at the traffic impact of electronic signs at the Common.
“At the potential detriment of safety in that area I would take a strong look at what this would do if somebody is coming around and looking at it,” DeVellis said.
Selectman Lynda Walsh also expressed apprehension towards installing electronic signs on the Town Common.
“My original thought was this is the Common and I don’t want electronics on the Common besides the lights for the memorials and the Christmas lights,” Walsh said. “I just wish there was a way we could repair the signs back to their original form. That’s what people are used to.
“We had voted before not to have electronic signage on Route 1 and I don’t want it on the Common. That’s just me. I’m not saying it’s terrible and ‘how could you do that,’ I’m saying that I remember when you put it up there and what a great addition [it was]. It fits up there nicely.”
Selectman Viginia Coppola said her main concern was cost related.
“My concern is the cost,” Coppola said. … “How will it be funded.”
Selectman Mark Sullivan said electronic signs at the Town Common is something he’d consider.
“It’s an asset to the community and I do see the guys up there all the time and the cost would be saved in a year in labor and they would be able to do other things like work on the roads,” said Sullivan. “I’m not opposed to it. … Our town has to get to the future.”
Selectmen told Russell and Hill that whatever the Historical Commission recommends will have a significant impact on whether to move forward with the project or not.
“A lot of our decision is going to be based on the Historical Commission,” DeVellis said.
Said Selectmen clerk Lorraine Brue: “I think that hearing from the Historical Commission would be important and also looking at funding towards the end of the year. I appreciate [Russell] doing the work on this.”
The Foxborough Lions Club will present the information to the Historic Commission and return to Foxborough’s Board of Selectmen at a later date.
In the meantime, we want to know …
Tell us: Do you think the town should upgrade its Town Common signs to electronic? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments section below!