Ann Arbor board votes to erect 3 billboards on school property for $100K in revenue
Steve Pepple | AnnArbor.com 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.