Leigh Colburn, Marietta High principal, asked members of Marietta City Council on Wednesday night to foot the bill for a digital sign near the school’s campus to advertise city events, school news and shows at the Marietta Performing Arts Center. She estimates a brick sign with landscaping would cost about $125,000 but had no official renderings or price quotes.
The school has absorbed the cost of operating the $8.5 million arts center attached to the high school Colburn maintains is a tourism draw for Marietta.
“We’ve hosted town hall meetings by the (Marietta Police Department) and Attorney General Sam Olens, the MPD Annual Award Dinner and ceremony, performances by Georgia Symphony Orchestra, The Shakespeare Tavern, Georgia Ballet, professional recording artists and numerous other community performing arts groups,” Colburn wrote in a letter to Councilman Johnny Walker, the city’s school liaison.
Colburn said the sign would be a “gateway” to the city and while it wouldn’t be used for advertising businesses, it would be used to promote performances and city-wide events, such as Taste of Marietta.
“I don’t even care if the sign says Marietta High School on it,” Colburn said. “My thought was that it would say, ‘welcome to the city of Marietta.’”
Digital signs are not allowed inside Marietta with the exception of billboards on Interstate 75 and Cobb Parkway. Businesses wanting to put a digital billboard on those roads must remove four static billboards in other locations in the city.
The Board of Zoning Appeals has granted two variances — one for Southern Polytechnic State University and one for The Walker School — but the City Council has never approved digital reader boards to be included on commercial signs.
Marietta City Schools is exempt from the Council’s sign and zoning ordinances because it is a governmental entity.
Councilman Andy Morris said he’s concerned if the city expresses approval of the digital signs for Marietta High School, other organizations, such as churches, will want the same treatment.
Still, Walker said the school system approached the city to be “good neighbors” and should get the council’s backing.
“I think we need to make an exception for the school system and us,” Walker said. “If people get mad about it, maybe we can cross those bridges when we get there.”
It’s possible the sign could be paid for with a city tourism grant, said Councilman Philip Goldstein, noting other city-owned signs have been funded by grants that are subsidized by hotel/motel tax collected in Marietta.
Mayor Steve Tumlin argued the city shouldn’t foot the bill for the sign and noted the school board is able to collect property taxes at a higher rate than the city. Marietta City Schools collect 18 mills while the city’s property tax is just 4 mills.
“I think we all have a lot of projects and a sign is not a core function of this city,” Tumlin said.
Councilman Stuart Fleming, who once served on the Marietta Board of Education, also questioned the need for the city to pay for a sign that would be used by the school system.
“The fact that the school board has $17 million in reserves and can’t figure that out is a little concerning to me, having sat on that board,” Fleming said.
He wants to partner with the school system, but said they should be “a little vested in this.”
Fleming wondered why Marietta Board of Education Chairman Randy Weiner wasn’t present at the meeting with Colburn.
“The chairman from the Board of Education should be out here having this conversation,” Fleming said.
Weiner later told the MDJ the school board hasn’t formally discussed the request.
The school district does have a $17 million reserve fund, Weiner said, but he added the request isn’t about helping out the school system.
“It’s about whether or not the city finds value in a gateway sign advertising citywide events and partnering with the school district,” Weiner said.
Colburn will present possible designs and prices to the city’s parks, recreation and tourism committee at its meeting set for May 20 at City Hall, 205 Lawrence St.