I read with interest the news that the Foxborough Lions Club is talking about the possibility of upgrading the two aging signboards at the top and bottom of Foxboro Common with electronic signs.
Since we’re talking about Foxboro Common, itself to many residents (myself included) sacred ground, many people will have a thought on this one.
I hope the debate is lively — it means people care. I hope that people will voice their opinion at selectmen meetings, in local coffee shops, and especially, in the op/ed section of the Reporter. And I pray the debate is much more civil than more recent debates on other issues.
First and foremost, thank you to the Foxborogh Lions for creating and maintaining these iconic and gorgeous signs. For me, they are as much a part of the Common as the memorials, flagpole, wrought-iron fence design, and the bandstand.
The existing signs hand lettered signs are elegant, informative, and fit right in with the Common atmosphere without being obtrusive or distracting, and provide needed community information.
But how to go forward? Upgrading to electric signs, at first glance, makes perfect sense. The existing process is intensively manual — someone goes out to the signs, opens them up, removes the letters, retrieves the new needed letters, spells out the new message, and locks up the signs. Every two weeks.
I am sure the task is, to put it mildly, a bit of a drag. It cannot be fun to update the signs in the rain, snow and cold. Also, the manual nature of the signs prohibits any “late breaking news,” for example, a storm emergency, a cancellation of an event, and so on. I know that the Jaycees would love the ability to make a late-breaking announcement that a concert had been canceled due to rain that day. And I recall many instances where weather conditions could (and did) force postponement of the Founders Day parade or fireworks — an update on an electronic sign would be a godsend to get the word out to the town quickly.
Also, assuming power remains on in town (this writer said with just a drop of sarcasm); an electronic sign would be invaluable during community emergencies to broadcast shelter information or emergency instructions, and more.
An electronic sign would make updating the information a snap, eliminate a lot of manual effort and the drudgery and expense for anyone to even go out with the boxes of letters to spell out new messages, and add a lively sign for visitors and residents to see. It all seems win-win and these are all good reasons to go the electric sign route.
…this is Foxboro Common, and I well understand the great desire to preserve not only the beauty of the area but its historic visual character. Our Common is in many ways the outdoor community center of the town, and a garden in the center of stone and mortar — an oasis, if you will, much like Boston Common and the Public Gardens. It MUST be preserved.
(I myself wrote a sternly worded column some years back saying that all the new street signs marred the beauty of the Common, an opinion I still stand by.)
So a change to an electric sign — even a partial change, means we lose an iconic part of our Common and a signature part of our community.
The more lights we add, the more we distract from the natural beauty. I agree. I get it.
So is there room for compromise and balance, old and new, historical and practical? Can we move forward with a new sign and still preserve the beauty and stateliness of the Common?
I believe so. Because I think that if we put in a few restrictions / caveats, an electronic sign can move comfortably into our Common and be a welcome and useful addition.
My thoughts are as follows:
- If at all possible, replace only the section of the sign that contains the current “manual” letters. The existing “Foxborough” and “Lions” framework would remain, and the electronic portion would replace the center, as shown in the illustration in this newspaper a few weeks back. A combination of new and old.
- The messages should be stationary, like they are today — two or three messages that do not move, flash, change colors, bounce, or blink or make happy faces. Anything else would be distracting to drivers around the Common. We don’t want people slowing down to catch the message they just missed. This isn’t a billboard.
- I read that the intensity of the illumination of the messages could be adjusted; that is excellent. Keep the lights at a brightness level for readability but not too distracting.
- Shut the sign off at 10pm. This would conserve electricity and not distract from their beautifully lit memorials on the Common now. We can’t read the existing signs by darkness, so nothing really changes here.
- Finally, on game or concert days, perhaps the signs can display a useful message to help regulate traffic, for example, GILLETTE STADIUM TRAFFIC STAY LEFT or something.
These are just my thoughts; as a 22 year Foxboro resident who has come to call this gem home, I am VERY aware that we want to preserve the Common, but in this case I think some compromises could get us a much-needed electric sign, and still preserve the character and beauty of the Common.
These are my thoughts — what are yours? You live here, and most of you love the Common. What do you think? Unlike some other recent issues facing us, here’s a nice topic we can all discuss without getting into battles (I hope).
I would love to read your thoughts on these pages. Let the comments and ideas begin!