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Posted on Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Financial benefit of digital billboards on school property comes with aesthetic cost

By Letters to the Editor

On behalf of Scenic Michigan, a statewide organization that preserves, protects and enhances Michigan’s scenic resources, we strongly encourage the Ann Arbor Board of Education to withdraw its unilateral decision to erect digital billboards on school properties.

Adams Outdoor Advertising has systematically approached school districts and cities throughout Michigan offering cash in exchange for impacting the safety, character, and, in this case, exposing students to rapidly changing messages in their learning environment. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “anything that distracts drivers from the forward roadway for more than two seconds significantly increases the chances of crashes and near crashes.” It is irresponsible to place the proposed digital billboards on the campuses of Huron and Pioneer High School where teen drivers already compromised by inexperience will be further distracted.

The impact on adjacent neighborhoods for homeowners and businesses is substantial. The bright light emitted by digital billboards can be viewed for miles and becomes the dominant feature in the landscape. The changeable messages that are viewed by students and drivers cannot be controlled or regulated due to First Amendment constraints.

True, the district, like many districts, faces harsh financial realities. Perhaps the good and consistently generous residents and businesses of Ann Arbor might offer foundation or corporate support to raise the needed $100,000. It makes good sense to have a public hearing and pose this question.

Finally, please don’t underestimate the strong relationship that your citizens have with a “sense of place.” Your students are no different. Once the look of their school is destroyed, this place in their hearts and minds will never be the same. Scenic Michigan encourages you to take a stand for community character, safety and for future students of your excellent school district by withdrawing your support for this proposal.

Abby Dart, Executive Director Scenic Michigan



Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 1:21 p.m.

I'm sure the electric signs will destroy the students "sense of place", distracted teen drivers will crash their cars while reading an evil corporate advertisement, and the evil corporations will brainwash the minds of our children with their propaganda billboard right on the school's property. Even if that were true, I'd still side with the side that brings in an extra $100k per year. They're cutting art, music, athletics, teachers, special ed, busing, etc, and you think the community and foundations would chip in that $100k PER YEAR so they don't have to look at a billboard when they drive by? Where are your priorities?


Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 11:05 a.m.

We teach our children about human sexuality in all of it's forms and we worry about what could possibly be on a bill board......?

Jake C

Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 5:21 a.m.

"The changeable messages that are viewed by students and drivers cannot be controlled or regulated due to First Amendment constraints." Oh really? So if a porn company wanted to put up an animated ad, there would be absolutely nothing that could be done, because of the First Amendment? I'm not so sure about that...

Wake Up A2

Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 12:09 a.m.

when a student is killed because they were watching the sign rather then the road I hope the district has the funds to pay for the lawsuit. There are better ways to get money then this.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:56 p.m.

This is a joke, right? If I was a for profit Charter, first thing I would do is rent the billboards. Ah, Capitalism!

Nicholas Urfe

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 9:55 p.m.

Why not repaint the school in a sponsors colors? Like McDonalds. Or Walmart.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 9:22 p.m.

Here's some info on power consumption and equivalent carbon footprint. Is this worth the money to everyone? Almost 400kWh/yr. Over 13 houses' worth.

Dog Guy

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 6:21 p.m.

We may expect a federal court to rule in favor of Westboro Baptist Church's free speech rights in renting these billboards.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 6:25 p.m.

I've been laughing all day at the thought of "Come. Pray with Us" during the U-M rush hour. Coming and going.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 5:48 p.m.

Those wind turbines are going to be much taller, wider, and thicker, AND they're going to LOSE incredible amounts of money instead of making ANY. So let's concentrate our efforts on not doing THOSE, what do you say?


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 6:23 p.m.

What do you think is going to power the neon litter?


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 4:06 p.m.

Time to wake up and smell the coffee, business sponsorship can be a great tool for raising much needed money to fund schools and sports programs in todays economic climate. As in any business deal, details can be negotiated to satisfy both parties, but the potential revenue generated should not be ignored, and its the wave of the future as a great revenue source. Not long ago, The UofM stood firm on no endorsements, now you see Nike and Adidas logos, the money just makes too much sense.

Nicholas Urfe

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 8:41 p.m.

" Not long ago, The UofM stood firm on no endorsements, now you see Nike and Adidas logos, the money just makes too much sense." Yeah, pathetic isn't it? With all the news of abusive labor practices, it seems they just take the money and look the other way.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 3:52 p.m.

This Bud's for you.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 3:19 p.m.

They are distracting, if only for a moment, that is unless it's a parking lot sized jumbotron like they just erected outside the big that is going too far!


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 4:09 p.m.

Go Blue!

Bill Wilson

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 2:52 p.m.

Hmmm.... The board in the ad is hardly offensive... it's a hockey ad. Is this an anti-hockey rant, or something? Who could be against hockey?


Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 9:06 a.m.

The issue is the effect the brightly lit constantly changing sign has on the surroundings. Try taking the west bound on-ramp at Huron and I-94 in Ypsi at night. The digital billboard there is all you can see instead of the tight curve onto a busy stretch of freeway. Whether Ann Arbor ends up with these billboards or not, hopefully local advertisers such as the DX-A2 race will reconsider using them in other communities as well.

Nicholas Urfe

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 8:40 p.m.

"Who could be against hockey?" Who could be for hockey? Besides dentists, of course.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

If the final determination is that the signs be allowed to be placed then I hope that the contract with the billboard company will include a clause requiring that a sign be removed if accidents within the signs' scope of visibility increase by, say, ten percent over the average of accidents in that area during the prior ten years.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:33 p.m.

Perhaps students, teachers, and parents could volunteer to have corporate sponsor's logos tattooed onto very visible places on their bodies. Perhaps McKinley logos on foreheads?


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 4:29 p.m.

Forget tatoos. We can't sell them every year. You want something less permanent. Try corporate logos on teacher and student uniforms like the Nascar drivers wear on their firesuits. Then you can get teachers to say things like "The Zingermans, Ark, Morgan and York class performed admirably on their tests, today."


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:06 p.m.

I'll mention again that these signs use a not insignificant amount of energy. The actual yearly projected energy usage would be a wonderful fact to include in one of these articles.


Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 11:17 a.m.

you and all of the users of this forum use a tremendous amount of energy every year also but you are still on your computer and cell phone and have electricity at your house.....hmmmmmm


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 3:55 p.m. This is a pretty good education on the energy consumption. I hope the contract puts the billboards on a separate meter that is paid by the owner of the billboard.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 3:27 p.m.

Maybe they will use the energy generated by the windmills to power the signs.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 2:33 p.m.

But in the end I bet $green will trump green.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:03 p.m.

The Ann Arbor sign ordinance permits schools to have signs only under section 5:507(7): "Signs of a religious institution, school, museum, community recreational facility or library indicating the name, current displays or activities and having an area not greater than 50 square feet." Billboards have an area of at least 300 square feet.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 1:28 p.m.

that is not entirely true. These billboards would apply to off premise signs under section 5:509

Dr. I. Emsayin

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:53 p.m.

Skyline promised that athletic lights and sounds would not disturb neighbors. However, the lights ruin the night sky for over a mile and the sound of the announcer can be heard at Forsythe. Shouldl we continue with an even more unsavory type of pollution with these billboards? Laying off a teacher can be rectified in a year when there are more retirements, an advertising agreement and unsightly signs in neighborhoods may take longer to undo.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 7:30 p.m.

Having given it some thought, I was perhaps a bit harsh on the Doc above. However, when you choose where you live, you should take into consideration how much you value peac and quiet. If its a high priority, the country may be a better choice. 100K could mean busing is not conpletely cut for high school. It could mean a class has fewer students because a teacher is not cut. It won't be rectified in a year, because with the same BOE, no doubt there will be more cuts. People may not be happy about it, but that's the reality.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 4:07 p.m.

Then again, you could always support the children in your community and attend a game, instead of complaining. They would appreciate it.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 3:44 p.m.

If you buy property near vacant land owned by AAPS, it's the risk you take. You can always move out of your million dollar house. Laying off 53 teachers cannot be rectified. But you must not have kids, or you would already know that.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:36 p.m.

Although some of the arguments in this op-ed are marginal, the fact that these billboards are an abomination and further evidence of the decline of Western civilization are two pretty good reasons to give them the stink eye.

Dog Guy

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:32 p.m.

For even considering midway marquees on my kids' schools, the Ann Arbor Board of Education should be run out of town on a rail. Note that this suggestion is not for an honor ride on Hieftje's choo-choo.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:26 p.m.

Since Scenic Michigan's stated function is " preserves, protects and enhances Michigan's scenic resources, " why don't you pony up the $100,000? Of all your points, the only one I might concede is the potential distraction to young drivers. But I doubt any of them will look at the thing anyway. After a week it will just background.

Nicholas Urfe

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 4:59 p.m.

@Craig: threatening to put up obnoxious billboards unless someone gifts you $100K is extortion. And with the current sad state of the school system's financial controls I have no confidence they wouldn't just blow it in "discretionary" funds.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 3:51 p.m.

Mr. Lounsbury - That is $100,000 a year. If they pony it up for 2013, then they will need to keep doing it, or they just delay the installation.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:03 p.m.

All billboards are blight. And these are the worst of the worst.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:02 p.m.

I'm sorry, but I just don't see this as further evidence of the decline of Western Civilization. If you don't like the billboard, don't look at it. I am, however, envisioning senior pranks in the future that involve hacking the electronic billboards located at rival schools.

John Q

Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 4:52 p.m.

Why should I? Why should I have to turn my head to avoid seeing that visual pollution? How would you like one of those in your neighborhood?


Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 11:09 a.m.

OK, John Q, why don't you have a choice? Why can't you just keep your eyes on the road?

John Q

Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 1:09 a.m.

We don't have a choice as to whether we want to look at it or not.

Basic Bob

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:08 p.m.

I wouldn't be too concerned unless it can be done easily from an iPhone, Twitter, or a can of spray paint.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:35 a.m.

If the BOE goes through with this commercialization of OUR educational properties, boycott any businesses that advertise there, and let the merchants know why you are boycotting them. I think this could actually help local merchants, who are going to be more in-tune with pro-educational culture of this city, and would be more likely to avoid this sort of advertising blunder. In "high-tech" Ann Arbor, I bet someone could set up a website listing the merchants who are advertising at our schools. If BOE wants to unleash the "free market" at our schools, this would be a great free market response from the community.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:52 a.m.

They already have merchants on the AAPS website. They are looking for MORE funding.


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:24 a.m.

I agree with Elaine. Plus, any agreement with the AAPS district can include restrictions on content. It's just a matter of working out the details between the parties. The only objection Scenic Michigan makes that I agree with is the one about brightness, but again this can be dealt with in the agreement if the district requires a sensor that will cut back on the output of LED light as natural light fades. The worst offender of this type of advertising and light output is the Firekeepers sign along I94 near Battle Creek. That thing makes you squint at night as you drive by.

Maria Huffman

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 12:10 p.m.

I wouldn't bet on the restrictions on content controlling the message, in the end. There are many ways to get a message across, and people and various groups can be quite resourceful when trying to communicate ideas. Sometimes, that "working out the details between parties" becomes an (nearly) insurmountable task.

Elaine F. Owsley

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:01 a.m.

Of all the possible "threats" out there, I am amazed at the reaction to digital billboards. Folks should spend their efforts on something really important. This is just silly.

Lake Trout

Mon, Jun 3, 2013 : 1:49 p.m.

I agree Elaine - people are living in lala land. If you allow yourself to be distracted while driving, maybe you shouldn't be on the road...

Usual Suspect

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 9:46 p.m.

Some of us can multitask. We can object to this and also take care of the other stuff.

Maria Huffman

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 10:45 a.m.

To Ann Arbor Board of Education, Imagine a billboard on public school property, advertising for-profit charter no on this, Ann Arbor Board of Education!


Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 11:36 a.m.

I thought the BOE decided to hold off on the billboards anyways, which makes his piece kind of redundant. Perhaps Scenic Michigan has $100k handy to donate to the "excellent school district?" "Once the look of their school is destroyed...." What happens when their school is bulldozed, or remains an empty shell, because it has been closed due to lack of funding?"

Chip Reed

Sun, Jun 2, 2013 : 10:19 a.m.

When I was a student at Pioneer, many years ago, we knew what to do with billboards...