Pierce County’s third-largest school district wants permission to install a type of sign that has stirred controversy in nearby communities.
Bethel School District is seeking changes to the Frederickson Community Plan allowing it to use electronic message signs mounted on poles in the unincorporated Frederickson area east of Spanaway.
A proposal is working its way through county government.
Frederickson community leaders recently gave their OK, but not before debating what the signs would do to the skyline.
“It would be nice if (schools) could get their messages out,” said John Marshall, a member of the Frederickson Clover Creek Community Council. “But I don’t want to see a proliferation.”
“There has to be a balance,” said another community leader, Curt Patterson.
The county Planning Commission is set to make a recommendation to the County Council this month. It’s also considering a similar request by the Puyallup School District to allow the signs at public schools in South Hill.
Puyallup’s proposal has met with more resistance. A commission organized to provide guidance on South Hill land-use issues recently recommended that it not be approved, saying in part that electronic signs can be eyesores and distractions to drivers.
The Spanaway-based Bethel district has six schools in Frederickson, including the new vocational skills center that serves students from throughout the county. An electronic sign is already in place at the skills center, but by rule it can show only time and temperature.
The district wants to display changing messages on electronic signs at schools to help communicate with parents and neighbors, said Cathie Carlson, facilities planner.
Under the proposal, the messages wouldn’t be rapid-fire and would hold for at least 30 seconds before switching.
“We use a lot of different mediums to get (our messages) out there – websites, letters, newsletters,” Carlson said. “We’ve found that reader boards are pretty relied upon by each school, by folks who attend those schools, to help them remember things.”
Manual signs, with letters that are replaced by hand, are outdated and labor intensive, she said.
Electronic signs are increasingly causing debate in cities and communities as technology improves and sign costs go down. City leaders in Puyallup have discussed imposing stricter regulations, with both businesses and citizens weighing in.
The Bethel district two years ago asked the county to allow electronic message signs in Graham. The signs were approved temporarily and during that time Bethel secured permits for its school signs, which are still valid today.
Frederickson’s community council recently took a stand on the district’s sign request, giving conditional support but signaling it wants the signs only at schools and other public agencies. Bethel had worded its proposal more broadly, allowing civic uses such as parks and churches.
The Frederickson Land Use Advisory Commission agreed with the community council’s position.
Carlson said the district doesn’t object to its proposal being narrowed.