School’s Sign Request Stalls

BERLIN — After its third trip to the Berlin Historic District Commission (HDC) this week, a proposed sign for Buckingham Elementary School (BES) has once again failed to move forward.

Principal Roger Pacella first approached the HDC in July of 2010 requesting a replacement sign for the simple wooden structure currently in front of the school. Since then, BES has attempted to get a sign approved by the commission twice with a third effort being made Wednesday. While it wasn’t denied, there was a stalemate over approval.

It is fair to note that the nearly three years BES has gone without a new sign since first applying isn’t due entirely to town zoning codes. Though it is true that HDC’s denial of a project carries a one-year period that the same project cannot be re-submitted, Planning and Zoning Director Chuck Ward pointed out that if the sign was changed in any significant way including size or materials it could be submitted every month to the HDC.

The current version of the proposed sign would measure six feet by nine feet and include a message board. Multiple schools in Worcester County, including Stephen Decatur High School, have similar signs.

“The sign is to have a presence on Main Street and to announce the events that are going on at the school,” said Pacella.

Two members of the HDC, which was running at the minimum quorum with only three members in attendance Wednesday, had no concerns with the sign. However, member Mary Moore said that she could not vote for the sign due to its message board.

“There’s a commercial aspect that personally, my vote, would be I’m not crazy about it … I just don’t like the marquee look,” she told Pacella.

Moore asserted that South Main Street where BES is located is the town’s nicest neighborhood and due care needs to be applied to keep any commercial trappings out.

“To me it’s very commercial to keep having all of these signs up there. I don’t know; I’m not crazy about the firehouse sign either,” she said.

While the announcements posted on the board would correspond with the school and would not be illuminated in anyway, Moore was uncomfortable with showing the messages to everyone who went by the schools.

“The problem with schools today, with predators and people in schools … so you’re inviting all of the people, anyone to come in, whether you have a child there or a neighbor there or a grandchild or a niece or whatever which you would know anyway,” she said.

Pacella admitted that he was perplexed by all of Moore’s issues with the sign.“I don’t know how to address all of your concerns,” he told her.

They were not as much concerns as statements of opinion, Moore replied, adding that she believed BES already has a significant presence in Berlin and on Main Street and that the message board portion of the sign is unnecessary. The rest of the HDC had no such problems, however, especially after it was promised that the sign could be made out of basically any materials so that it would meet historic district standards.

The matter was put in limbo with a 2-to-1 vote, with Moore opposed and members Carol Rose and Rick Stack in favor. Berlin’s code requires three affirmative votes for the commission to approve an application.

BES chose to ask for a continuance until the next HDC meeting, when Rose promised that at least four members of the commission would be in attendance.