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Posted on Thu, May 23, 2013 : 8:40 a.m.

Ann Arbor board votes to erect 3 billboards on school property for $100K in revenue

By Danielle Arndt


Michigan Stadium, across from Pioneer High School, as seen from downtown Ann Arbor as the Wolverines played their first night game under newly installed lights in 2011 against Notre Dame. The Big House billboard could have some competing lights this fall if a digital billboard is installed at Pioneer for some additional revenue for the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Steve Pepple | file photo

Digital billboards similar to one along Interstate 94 outside Ypsilanti could be erected at Wines Elementary and Huron and Pioneer high schools come fall.

The Ann Arbor Board of Education voted Wednesday to place the digital billboards onto the revenue side of the budget proposal for the 2013-14 academic year.

The plan for the billboards would not be official until the budget is approved in June. However, despite their initial concerns about the light emission and ugliness of the structures, board members agreed in these tough financial times, the extra $100,000 in annual revenue that the boards would bring in was worth it.

"When I first thought of putting billboards up ... it just didn't feel right," said Treasurer Glenn Nelson. "It felt like selling our souls, to use the phrase."

But, he said, now the tradeoffs are worse, and the district is struggling to maintain excellence in its schools.

"We have just gotten to the point where there are going to be some costs in the community in order to take care of our children," Nelson said.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools is facing an $8.67 million budget shortfall for the 2013-14 academic year and considering drastic cuts, such as eliminating the seventh-hour option at Huron and Pioneer; cutting busing for high school students; reducing the number of staff by 80 employees, including 50 teachers; and closing middle school pools.

Adams Outdoor, the same company that erected the billboard off I-94, approached the Ann Arbor Public Schools a few years ago about these three locations, hoping to work with the district to install the signs. The school board members turned down the advertising revenue last year when district Communications Director Liz Margolis brought the proposal to them. Adams Outdoor also currently has two digital billboards on Whitmore Lake Public Schools property. The one most notable is located at the high school and can be seen going north on U.S. 23.

The Pioneer High School digital billboard would be erected near the spot where the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority park-and-ride lot is, but closer to Main Street and Stadium Boulevard, Margolis said. This sign would be 10 feet by 30 feet, two-sided and on a monopole structure.

The Huron High School billboard would also be two-sided (digital on both sides) and 10 feet by 30 feet. However, it would be lower to the ground and installed in a brick enclosure to be more aesthetically appealing for the area. It would be installed on Huron Parkway west of Geddes Road.

The Wines Elementary digital billboard would on the highway ring on M-14, west of Newport Road, Margolis said. She said this one would be most similar to the billboard at Whitmore Lake High School off U.S. 23. This billboard right now is expected to be just one-sided, but larger: 14 feet by 48 feet. Logistically, Adams Outdoor engineers are not sure they could have two sides on the sign. If they could, the extra side would bring in an extra $17,000 per year in revenue for AAPS.

An Adams Outdoor official attended Wednesday's regular Board of Education meeting to answer questions from trustees. Vice President Christine Stead asked about the brightness of the billboards and whether they could be dimmed at all at night. She also asked about safety risks.

The Adams Outdoor representative said the digital billboards have 256 dimming levels and an automatic dimming device, so the signs are the brightest during the day and are at their lowest levels at night.

He also said the company recently conducted a safety study on all three digital billboards it has in Washtenaw County using Southeast Michigan Council of Governments traffic data. He said Adams Outdoor compared traffic crashes near the signs from three years before they were erected to data from three years after. There were no increases in accidents around the boards, the representative said. One area stayed virtually the same, while the other two saw a decrease in the number of accidents.

He did not suggest the decline in accidents was due to the billboards, but said the company did look to see whether traffic volumes were down. But he said there was a margin of about a 3-percent swing when executives looked at the volumes in those areas, so nothing significant traffic-wise appeared to have changed.

The district would sign a 20-year lease with Adams Outdoor, and the $100,000 to $117,000 in annual revenue is expected for each year of the lease.

AAPS also will be permitted to place district advertising and information on the signs.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Sat, Jun 1, 2013 : 12:42 p.m.

Go for budget items that will really have strategic impact -- not just commercial bandaids. The sign selling approach will aggravate the community, pollute the visual scene, and cost a lot of electricity. Also would the school have any say over what is displayed on the signs? I can imagine many items that the schools would not want to be associated with. Since redistricting is on the horizon.... Sell Angell School, move Community High School to Skyline and lease the current building. Make Skyline the alternative high school. Selling the elementary school and renting out Community will really reduce costs. Also look at more strategic use of information technology. More and more school districts, for example, are saving money by moving from physical to digital text books and tablets. Is AAPS considering that?


Mon, May 27, 2013 : 4:28 p.m.

What better way to post such things as Amber Alerts. It's quick and visible, I vote YES!!

A A Resident

Sat, May 25, 2013 : 11:55 a.m.

As long as we're being purely pragmatic about this, shouldn't we help fund our parks and nature areas by placing advertising there too? How about putting a McDonalds on Pioneer property at the corner of Stadium and Main? And couldn't some large billboards be attached to city hall? Look at all the potential revenue we're missing! Oh, I almost forgot my favorite idea. We can build special "rumble strips" into the roadways, which will play an advertising jingle when we drive over them.


Sat, May 25, 2013 : 11:48 a.m.

This is on a par with the idea of selling the DIA art works. The City spent much time in court successfully reducing the blight of billboards. Putting them on public property is an obscene idea.


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 11:46 p.m.

Glenn Nelson said, " when I first thought of putting the billboards up, it just didn't feel right..." Oh, but feeding yourself while our kids get everything under the sun cut and sliced from the budget is okey dokey. Didn't lose any sleep over the stupid decision to keep your food budget. Lame.


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 6:26 p.m.

This is the fiscally prudent thing to do. Look at the current proposed deficit. Time to get creative and this is just such a way. Easy for people without children in the school system to be naysayers on this, but this is a much better solution than some of the drastic measures mentioned in the article.

Scenic Michigan

Fri, May 24, 2013 : 4:11 p.m.

As Executive Director of Scenic Michigan, we have seen Adams Outdoor make these deals in many cities. The school district is promised cash in exchange for unsightly, distracting, light emitting, permanent visual blight in our educational settings. I am so pleased to see all the comments opposing these eyesores and hope everyone will show up the Board of Education Budget meeting in June opposition. In the meantime, please check our our website , for a wealth of information on the dangers and issues related to digital billboards.


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

Cut ONE administrstive position and you wouldn't have to resort to prostitution.

Alice Ralph

Fri, May 24, 2013 : 1:21 p.m.

@The Big House billboard could have some competing lights this fall if a digital billboard is installed at Pioneer for some additional revenue for the Ann Arbor Public Schools." I don't think so. I've been watching the huge quad-masted digital billboard go up between Crisler arena and the Big House. It is much bigger, taller than a 'puny' 10x30, and almost at the curb of East Stadium. Perpendicular to the street, it's so close it blots out the sky--and the rather elegantly renovated Crisler. Our city has no control over that, either It is a shame that we do not have effective funding of public schools. In public [pre-K through 14] education. Ann Arbor should be the corollary "Leaders and Best" to UMich, especially when the longest operating high school is right across the street from the blaring [even when they are off] Jumbo-trons of the Big House. We do have some say in how much we contribute in taxes and what we ask of the school board. Ideally the time to get involved is before a crisis develops. With these awful billboards, we are playing defense with the second string and no money for the bus--literally. We are at a disadvantage against these digital insults both to school pride and pride of place. We might be proud of our students. We should make them proud of us.


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 11:46 a.m.

And who decides what is appropriate to advertise there? Can't wait for the ads for the local party store, or how about Lover's Lane. Right in front of the kids' school. Won't that be great? Think it won't happen?


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 11:37 a.m.

Is it just me, or does 20 years sound like a huge commitment? A LOT can change in that time. Schools can close, etc. What happens then?


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 10:53 a.m.

No, no and no. Funds to erect this billboards should be going to the children -- not ugly billboards.


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 10:39 a.m.

The School Board needs to tell the company how much revenue they will charge them. Don't let them set the price. Have an annual increase in the contract and please don't sign a 20 year deal...


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 3:28 a.m.

First child that gets run over from a distracted driver will not make 100 k worth it. 100k only pays half an admin salary anyway!


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 9:22 p.m.

So these billboards are paid for by someone else, right? The school gets money from renting the land to the billboard companies? Please tell me the school doesn't pay to build them and then just rent the screen time.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 9:33 p.m.

Most likely the school district would lease the land to the advertiser, and the terms of the lease would include a detailed description of the sign to be built. Obviously, the school district doesn't have expertise in building, owning and operating electronic advertising billboards.

Pragmatic Paul

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 9 p.m.

I'm confused by the public reaction to the recent school board proposal to erect a billboard on school property as a way to increase revenue. This is an instance when the school board has clearly and thoughtfully come together to benefit students and our the entire school district as it faces tough financial times. This type of thinking "outside the box" will help keep teachers in classrooms, maintain appropriate sized classrooms, preserve arts and music programs, as well as strengthen an already award-winning school district. A side benefit includes advertising and creating support for our local businesses. I fully support this proposal and stand behind our well-informed school board!


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 7:45 p.m.

I am curious how many people actually know the facts. There seems to be a whole lot of finger pointing and assumptions with no proof. As a local advertiser I applaud the efforts of helping me to reach my target audience along with contributing to the schools.


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 9:28 a.m.

As a local advertiser, do you put your ads outside the bedroom windows of your target audience? That is exactly what the one proposed for Wines will to the homes on Newport and in the Riverwood subdivision. So far, it looks like the BOE is willing to sell out the community without even checking the local ordinances. There is nowhere along the Wines property that wouldn't be a playground or push it even closer to someones home. It also would intrude on places like Bird Hills Park and pollutes the night sky for an otherwise residential area. I lost what little support I still had for the BOE with this half-baked idea. It is inappropriate for any school location as it cheapens and degrades the surroundings.

Charles Curtis

Fri, May 24, 2013 : 4:05 a.m.

There are so many opportunities to contribute to the schools and reach an audience with out super signage. Buy ads in the various programs, add signs to sports fields, if the schools know you are looking Im sure they would overwhelm you with ads to buy. The signs in the city proper, like at Huron and Pioneer are going to cause so many issues with traffic, and those areas are bad enough with the student drivers still learning, I cant imagine how these wont increase accidents at those two sites.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 7:44 p.m.

Billboards on the Interstate make some sense based on the number of eyeballs driving by, and based on non-intrusion into residential neighborhoods. Billboards on surface streets in residential-to-green areas are garish and obnoxious. Just because the UM has done it doesn't mean AAPS should. And if this makes sense to the board, where is the end? Ads on school buses? In the hallways, cafeteria, or gym? Or perhaps banner ads on the AAPS website ("Lease a new Canyonaro from $199/mo!"). Schools are by their very nature public spaces, with ownership shared by the whole of the community and are very specifically not commercial or political enterprises. Commercial billboards are a clear and direct violation of that public trust and intent. Shame on the board for endorsing this idea.

Usual Suspect

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 10:23 p.m.

There already are ads on the website. They use Flash and they make the website very slow.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 7:11 p.m.

It's free money. So what if it's garish. It's better than nothing, since the state refuses to tax sufficiently to support education.

Angry Moderate

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 8:14 p.m.

Funny how the taxes are enough for AAPS to hire more and more six-figure administrators every year, spend millions on sports teams that not everyone is allowed to join, have free snacks at board meetings because our elected representatives can't feed themselves, and buy invisible pool covers even though they don't work properly and nobody likes them.

Angry Moderate

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 6:37 p.m.

I hope the billboards get snatched up with advertisements for nearby charter schools.

Honest Abe

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 4:36 p.m.

I love it when the government (Local or not) decides to sell off things I (as a taxpayer) already own.

Scott Reed

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 3:57 p.m.

Wow, with all that money they could *almost* hire a new professional administrator to sit around and contribute nothing.

Usual Suspect

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 3:49 p.m.

"The Huron High School billboard would also be two-sided (digital on both sides) and 10 feet by 30 feet. However, it would be lower to the ground and installed in a brick enclosure to be more aesthetically appealing for the area." I think you could maybe say, "a bit less obnoxious," but "more aesthetically appealing" is quite a stretch.

Usual Suspect

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

This is totally nuts. It's like some kind of sick joke that they are even being considered. First of all, we don't need more billboards within the city, we need fewer. Second, doesn't Ann Arbor have a law against signs that move or simulate motion? A billboard that changes could violate that law. Third, these produce a lot of light (not very neighborly) and use a lot of power. Fourth, plain and simply, these will be absolutely ugly and will stick out like a sore thumb.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 3:21 p.m.

Ironically, I noticed earlier today as I drove by that the current billboard at Huron High has 2 "announcements" running. One is from December and one is from March.


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 11:24 p.m.

When the principal at our elementary school was new, he was all excited about installing a fancy sign. So glad parents did not support this - the messages on them do not stay current and the neighbors would have an eyesore!


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 12:22 p.m.

Saw that last week, too. Money well spent I'm sure...

Charles Curtis

Fri, May 24, 2013 : 4 a.m.

Another waste of school money, those signs are useless since most are not current, well maybe the time/temp is current.

Angry Moderate

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 6:36 p.m.

Remember when they spent a bunch of money putting that thing in, because it was needed to get critical messages to parents?


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 5:40 p.m.

That is not a billboard. It only posts school information. Sure would be nice if it were kept current, though... The new signs will be MUCH larger and brighter. And, I guarantee the company renting the advertising space will keep it up-to-date.

pooh bear

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 3:04 p.m.

The University has many donors who give money for specific items.. Can't the public schools do something similar? Can private citizens underwrite certain programs in the schools like music, art or sports? Could private citizens fund special teachers?


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 11:20 p.m.

Actually, I think the Ann Arbor Education Foundation does this - they fund "special projects" from donated funds. (Remember the Million Reasons campaign signs around town?). For example, I think they funded the middle school late buses this past year so middle school kids could get home if they stayed for an after school club or sport. My understanding is that the district or specific teachers need to write a proposal to get the funding. In the past, this funding seems to be for additional projects, but with this economic envirnonment, perhaps they can begin to fund more regular type of curriculum. Maybe someone from the foundation can explain.

Charles Curtis

Fri, May 24, 2013 : 3:58 a.m.

No, the state law prevents much private funding of public schools. Thats something that would be nice to see printed out. Last time I looked at that it was quite complicated. Booster clubs, PTO and such have tried to help fund things in various districts and I believe there has been litigation on it a few times. I think they are allowed to fund limited things, but not personnel. But with the private schools and charters now in place, maybe things have changed some?

Vince Caruso

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 2:55 p.m.

How about we reduce the over payed administrators $100K and then find new ones. This will greatly negativity effect the neighborhoods in the areas and reduce their property values. Thanks AAPS. The state government is out of touch with reality with cuts to public schools and huge tax breaks for the wealthy. We need to work on the state elected officials, through changes in the Gerrymandered districts that get them elected, state wide we overwhelmingly elect dems but not local for this very reason.

Blazingly Busy

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 2:43 p.m.

So, is AAPS already counting this "future potential income" in their new budget? If so, that's the "Enron Way"...

Blazingly Busy

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 4:56 p.m.

Ever watch the documentary "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"?


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 2:37 p.m.

Who has the authority to approve what advertisements will be allowed, the sign company or the school? Will political advertising be allowed? For example, the location across from the stadium might be a prime location for a candidate for Regent. What about an anti-abortion message? I can imagine some advertising that might be objectionable to some members of the public.

Usual Suspect

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 3:42 p.m.

Good point. Ask AATA how much trouble that issue invites.

Dog Guy

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1:43 p.m.

I'll contribute to renting these digital billboards to advertise Ann Arbor Board of Education challengers.

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1:40 p.m.

Maybe the school could make a few bucks by forcing students and staff to wear uniforms that have advertising on them. They could brand the schools - like "McDonalds High School", and "Skittles Middle School".


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1:35 p.m.

The digital signs will always present a distraction for drivers. If drivers did not look at the billboards then the owners would not place them by roadways. The risk for accident is no different than from texting, changing radio stations, putting on makeup and eating while driving. The risk for accident is more likely on more congested city streets than on freeways because of the stop-and-go traffic along local roads. I hope that the accident rates are monitored where the digital signs are placed and that the contracts signed with the advertising companies include the removal of signs if the rate of accidents increases. Is permanent disability or loss of life from an accident worth the $100,000 received for placement of a digital billboard?

Nicholas Urfe

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1:29 p.m.

Already approved? This is disgusting. When was the proposal presented to the public, and when was the public comment period for citizens and neighbors? How tall will they be? Those annoying billboards have no place in our city. The school board can't sell out the interests of the residents like that. I mean, what's next? Are they signing a binding multi-year contract on this, so residents can't force the removal of the billboards? Meanwhile, they haven't hired any third party auditors to find out where the money is all going.

social conscience

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1:27 p.m.

Thank goodness, now they can vote for an increase in the food budget for board meetings. For further increases in revenue, the board should consider leasing that large field at Huron to an oil company that practices fracking.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1:07 p.m.

Good, now the students at Huron will have something to look at in the afternoon, since there won't be a 7th hour class.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1:07 p.m.

FYI, each sign will use more power than an average house. Maybe many times that. That would actually be a great question for Adams.


Fri, May 24, 2013 : 12:20 p.m.

Wind turbines! That's the ticket!


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1:04 p.m.

Danielle: Huron Parkway runs north-south, and Geddes Rd. crosses the river south at the Parkway. Fuller Road runs west, from the intersection of Geddes and Huron Parkway, in front of Huron High School. Wouldn't the sign be located on Fuller Road west of Huron Parkway? If the sign is on Huron Parkway, it would be north of Geddes Road, on the west side of the Parkway.

Bob Zuruncol

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

Drive north on Rt23 to witness the splendor of the Whitmore Lake billboard and know how beautiful and wildly unobtrusive these screaming electronic signs can be. Some day all students will wear Exxon Moblie uniforms to school with sewn-in animated gifs and LEDs. Let's work toward that.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 12:57 p.m.

I'm curious - could private property owners erect such lighted signs near those locations, or is this just something that the schools or other public entities could do?


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 5:34 p.m.

The last sentence in my previous post should read "The city probably can enforce the sign ordinance against AAPS."


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 5:32 p.m.

The University of Michigan is a special municipal corporation created under state law, and thus is not subject to the zoning or other ordinances of Ann Arbor. Public school districts do not have the same status. School Districts are immune from SOME municipal ordinances affecting zoning and building site plans, as set forth below. I think the City can make a strong argument that AAPS is NOT immune from the sign ordinance, because the sign ordinance is not a zoning or building regulation. AAPS is immune from some municipal ordinances under statutory law and a Michigan Supreme Court decision. Under Section 1263 of the Revised School Code (MCL 380.1263), "The superintendent of public instruction has sole and exclusive jurisdiction over the review and approval of plans and specifications for the construction, reconstruction, or remodeling of school buildings used for instructional or noninstructional school purposes and, subject to subsection (4), of site plans for those school buildings." The Michigan Supreme Court has held that "[w]e determine that the statute [MCL 380.1263] here is unambiguous. ? It grants sole and exclusive jurisdiction to the state superintendent to review and approve plans and specifications of school buildings and site plans for those buildings. ? Thus, what the state superintendent approves is immune from the provisions of local zoning ordinances." CHARTER TOWNSHIP OF NORTHVILLE v. NORTHVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS, 666 N.W.2d 213 (2003). While someone could conceivably argue that renting ground space to an advertising company is a site or building plan that requires approval from the state superintendent, I think that stretches the intent of the state statute. For example, would the school district then be required to seek state approval if it wanted to construct a billboard on a vacant school owned parcel? If so, would every school-owned property be exempt from local ordinances regardless of use? The city can enforce the sign

$5,000 is just pennies

Thu, May 23, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

UM & AAPS are not subject to local ordinances and therefore can pretty much do what they want. Such as the large advertising billboard by the UM Stadium. Advertising at the local schools is not the answer. These signs will be obnoxious and not what we want within the school properties.


Thu, May 23, 2013 : 1:18 p.m.

As far as I know, school districts and their property are subject to municipal ordinances. Chapter 61 of the Ann Arbor Code of Ordinances regulates signs and outdoor advertising. According to the definitions in the Code, these signs would constitute an "Off-Premises Sign". (5:501 (13) and (14)) 5:509 (4) states that any Off-Premises Sign "must not be closer than 50 feet to any on-premises sign and 500 feet to any playground, school, residential dwelling, church or park." The City would have to amend its sign ordinance to permit the construction of these signs on school property.