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Board debates placement and procurement of Manchester Valley High sign

After a committee raised money for an electronic sign at Manchester Valley High, staff and board members debated where it should go and how future costs would be paid for.

An advisory committee for the high school requested placing the sign at a different location than the pre-designated spot picked during construction.

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The committee is requesting to put the sign on the corner of Maple Grove Road and Md. 30 on the side where the school building is. However, it would be on the town of Manchester’s property. The sign was initially planned to sit further down on Md. 30 on land the school owns.

The committee raised $50,000 to purchase the sign, Matt Colendar, the committee vice chair, said. He asked the board permission to move forward with the committee’s recommended sign placement during Wednesday’s meeting.

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If approved, the meeting document stated the board would need to consider and approve a joint use memorandum of understanding with the town of Manchester, easement and access rights with the town, transfer of property, potential agreements with third parties and planning and zoning requirements or exceptions.

They would also need to consider the initial and ongoing cost associated with the alternative placement like a surveyor, electricity, fiber or WiFi costs, utility research, metering and monthly electricity costs.

Raymond Prokop, director of facilities and management, said the initial area for the sign presents “no obstacles” when it comes to installation and they’re ready to go.

Colendar said many won’t see the sign at that location, but that wouldn’t be the case at the committee’s preferred spot because people cannot get into the school without going on Maple Grove Road.

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“If you put it in the proposed location, and you’re coming from Hampstead and you turn in to Maple Grove Road, the letters on the sign would need to be five feet tall,” he said, adding it would only serve the population that’s north of Maple Grove Road.

Manchester already gave the OK to put the sign on its property, he said, and would discuss it at an April meeting. He added later that Baltimore Gas and Electric estimated the electricity for the sign would cost $12,000 and the committee would be willing to pay for it.

Jon O’Neal, chief of operations, said this would be the first time the system placed a sign that is not where it was designated to be and asked if the board would be willing to set that precedent and pay more for the sign if costs turns out to be higher than expected. He said the sign operations would have to move from the committee and become the board and town’s official responsibility.

Edmund O’Meally, CCPS attorney, said both the town and school board need to agree to transferring the property and the sign cannot be placed until then.

Manchester Valley High School is getting a new digital sign but school officials have not yet decided where it should go.
Manchester Valley High School is getting a new digital sign but school officials have not yet decided where it should go. (Screengrab)

Board member Tara Battaglia, whose children attend Manchester Valley, said she’s concerned the placement of the sign on Maple Grove Road could block the vision of drivers as they leave campus.

“They can’t see turning up the hill,” she said. “Having teenagers driving, that’s a concern for me.”

She also said that intersection frequently has accidents.

Colendar said the sign is not huge and is similar to the width of a telephone pole. He later added “I don’t know if it would actually be that scary.”

The stem of the sign is 3 feet wide and the entire structure is 21 feet tall. The main head of the sign at the top is 7 feet wide.

“Do I want to take that responsibility of ‘yeah, I voted that to happen’ and someone got hurt?” Battaglia asked.

Board members voiced concerns like timeliness to have it in place by the fall and wanting to know how much everything costs before agreeing to the move forward with the proposal.

“We need to see exactly who’s going to pay for what and who’s going to be responsible for what,” Battaglia said.

She said later that if the sign goes in the area as originally planned, they do not have to decide on anything, but if it goes into the committee’s requested location, more planning would occur and they would have to pay thousands of dollars.

“This could be easy, or drawn out for a year,” she said.

Board President Marsha Herbert said the proposal needs to come back to the school board as an action item, and O’Meally said the town’s administrator, Steve Miller, should attend when it does.

“In order for this to work, the board and town need to be 100% on the same page,” O’Meally said.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said during Thursday’s Board of Commissioner meeting that he applauds those who raised the $50,000 for the sign and wished them luck with the project. Fellow commissioners Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, and President Ed Rothstein, R-District 4, applauded their efforts as well.

The school board also heard heard and update on plans to build a new East Middle School in Westminster and approved the plans to be submitted to the state. The project is set to cost $52.3 million.

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