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Funding discussed for digital signs at Forsyth's high schools
WEB school sign
Digital signs may soon replace Forsyth County’s current high school welcome signs, as seen above. - photo by Jim Dean Forsyth County News

Digital signs may soon replace Forsyth County’s current high school welcome signs.

Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden raised the issue at a called meeting Monday, which was held during the Board of Education’s annual retreat, saying he has heard the topic discussed numerous times since he became superintendent in September 2014.

“We get approached on a pretty regular basis by folks willing to give us the signage in exchange, obviously, for them wanting to sell advertising,” Bearden said. “We have two new high schools that we are constructing right now, and I just wanted to put it out there to [see] if you want us to consider it.”

Some neighboring counties use digital signs instead of the traditional hand-placed lettering at their schools, such as North Gwinnett High School in Gwinnett County.

Bearden said many Forsyth County principals have said the signs would be convenient.

“It’s nice to have … you just type in your information, and it’s right there,” Bearden said. “You don’t have to have somebody out there changing the letters, things like that.”

District 2 board member Kristin Morrissey said she is concerned about the signs being a nuisance, especially in residential areas.

“I like the idea and the convenience, but optically, in my experience, even though the sign at First Redeemer [Church] is legal, there is a lot of pushback from the community that the threshold for the brightness is too high,” she said. “If you drive past those signs at night, especially if it’s raining, it’s very distracting and dangerous. If you have a lit up sign in a residential area, it’s going to be too much.”

Morrissey, along with other board members, also said they are against advertising on the sign, meaning the schools would have to purchase the signs themselves instead of potential advertisers providing them for free.

Signs usually cost between $18,000 and $20,000 but can run up to as high as $25,000, said Tim Amerson, director of facilities planning.

Amerson said under current county regulations, digital signs are only allowed on commercially and industrially zoned properties.

“Out of our seven high schools [five existing and two being constructed], none of them meet that qualification to start with,” he said.

“They’re all either residential- or agricultural-zoned properties, so we would have to get that approved.”

County regulations also only permit digital signs to change to a new screen every 20 minutes, rather than every 30 seconds or so, as North Gwinnett’s does.

Bearden stressed the county will not pay for the signs, should they be approved.

But, he said, this might bring up additional issues.

“The reality is, some high schools may easily be able to generate the funding and others may not,” he said. “Now you’re going to get into that issue — why do high schools ‘A’ and ‘B’ have that sign and high schools ‘C’ and ‘D’ do not?”

“The question is would the high schools even want the signs if they didn’t have advertising?” District 1 board member Ann Crow asked.

The topic is expected to be revisited at a later date, pending information from high school principals in the county.