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This is the current sign at the Marilyn Rodman Performin Arts Center.

Our annual town meeting will be May 13, and I would like to use this space to encourage you to vote yes on a somewhat controversial citizen’s petition.

Article 17 references the Marylyn Rodman Performing Arts Center (The Orpheum). Specifically, allowing a change in the town policy regarding electronic signs within 1,000 feet of Foxboro Common. I urge you to vote yes on this article and allow the new sign to be installed.

For years, and years, we lamented that nothing was happening downtown.

And then rebirth! The Orpheum Theater has been reborn and is thriving.

At this writing, there is something happening at the venue for all but three days next year. Cultural events, plays, performance art, dance have returned to the Foxboro Center. Not to mention meetings for all of the fraternal and non-profit groups in town, events for kids, and even a free Super Bowl watching party. And so much more. Finally, people have a reason to go the Foxboro Common again.

Every night, he doors are open, the lights are on. That is awesome.

But this success creates a problem — the announcement sign on the gas station side of the building is 99 years old (that is not a typo) and is 20 feet off the ground. Changing it means a volunteer needs to climb a ladder 20 feet in all kinds of weather — sometimes three times in a single day — to keep the sign updated. That volunteer needs to replace the tiny plastic letters one at a time. Volunteers have been navigating this narrow space and dangerous height throughout the last eight seasons. It’s dangerous, and the fact is inevitable: Someone is going to get hurt.

I speak from experience: Back in 2011, I fell off a five-foot ladder and dislocated my hip. Five feet. Imagine a fall from 20 feet. In the snow or rain or ice.

Now, you may recall, a few years back, a proposal to replace the iconic Lions announcement boards on the north and south sides of the Common with electronic signs was met with a resounding thud. A very vocal, angry thud. And that was understandable — the town balked when we saw the new signs demonstrated — the LED signs were garish, distracting, and filled with blazing graphics, blinking zipping fonts and multi-colors and fireworks. It was hideous.

And Foxboro correctly said, “Not on my Common!”

And they were right. The signs would be a distraction and detracted from the history and beauty of the Town Common.

Now, while the 2019 Rodman Sign proposal may seem similar, it is not. During the Feb. 19 selectman’s meeting (available to watch on www.fcatv.org), during citizen’s input, Paul Beck and (then) selectman Jim Devellis (sitting on the citizen side of the table with Paul) explained the need for a new electronic sign to replace the old Rodman sign, while finding a way to respect the policy prohibiting electronic signs within 1,000 feet of the common.

Their proposal is a very good one, well thought out. They have met with all the appropriate boards and groups and done their homework.

The new sign, while electronic, would look exactly the same — four lines, either black letters on white, or white letters on black, and softly lit. No flashy graphics, no moving text, no flags and fireworks and rockets’ red glare. From a distance, it would look pretty much identical to what is there now.

The article reads as follows:

“To see if the town will vote to amend the code of the town of Foxboro Massachusetts chapter 213: Signs, by adding the following new subsection 2 section 213-5. D:

Any nonprofit entity that is a place of assembly the principal purpose of which is the performance and display of cultural events and the Arts is authorized pursuant to a special sign permit to have one electronic message board that faces a public way, provided that:

1) only information concerning the programs at events perform and held at such location and public service information requested by the town of Foxboro may be displayed on such sign

2) such sign shall be situated on the premises at which such programs and events are performed

3) the colors of the message board shall be restricted to a white background with black lettering on a black background with white lettering

4) such sign shall be subject to the dimensional requirements that are applicable to commercial uses for that type of sign in the sign District in which set sign is located or take any other action related thereto.”

Friends, the wording here is precise, and perfect. No worries about Foxboro Common turning into Route One in Saugus. No advertising by other businesses on the sign. No businesses putting up their own signs. And a much needed method for the town to announce emergencies, power outages, school closings and so on.

Also, Paul mentioned at the selectman’s meeting that the brightness can be dimmed if deemed necessary to minimize any distraction to oncoming cars. And there would be no flashy graphics, no moving pictures and dancing fonts. Not only will the sign be aesthetically pleasing, except for the soft lighting, it will look like same.

Foxboro has been my home for the last 29 years and I understand the reluctance to make any changes anywhere near the Common, and especially the danger of opening Pandora’s box. Yes, this is a very specific set of requirements — and the are necessary to keep Pandora and her billboards and neon in her box.

But this well thought out and detailed plan is a perfect compromise to preserving the look and feel of the area around Foxboro Common, while allowing a much needed change.

The sign’s verbiage can be updated any time using a computer keyboard — no more ladders, no more danger. Just a few keystrokes, and the the sign is updated.

The new sign not only prevents an inevitable personal injury (or worse) due to the need to change the sign constantly, but it will allow the newly reborn Rodman Center to flourish and succeed by advertising its constantly evolving events and cultural programs in a safe and timely fashion.

The new sign checks all the boxes to make a change and preserve the beauty of the common, and to fulfill a specific need to “Keep the Curtain Rising.”

For more information, watch the Feb. 19 selectman’s meeting on fcatv.org. Or read the warrant at www.foxboroughma.gov.

I urge to you vote yes for Article 17, the new Rodman Center sign on March 13 at town meeting.

Robert Gillis lives on Beach Street and is an occasional contributor to the Foxboro Reporter.

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