Planning commission nixes school board sponsored sign; three members said they don’t like ‘advertising’

Published 2:46 pm Monday, November 21, 2022

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NATCHEZ — The city’s planning commission on Thursday night sent the school district back to the drawing board.

The Natchez Adams School District presented information and a drawing of the sign it would like to install at the new Natchez High School and Middle School.

Immediately commissioners keyed in on an area of the sign that acknowledges the three community businesses that will actually pay for the sign, which are Jordan Carriers, Home Bank and Coca-Cola.

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Planning commissioner Jonathan Smith said the sign amounted to off-site advertising for the three businesses and that it should not be approved.

“I don’t know if that’s a good esthetic look for our city to have all this off-site advertising,” he said.

Commissioner Marsha McCullough agreed. “I really don’t like the advertising on a school sign.”

Tony Fields, the school district’s public engagement coordinator, and Fred Butcher, district superintendent, explained the reasoning behind the sponsored sign.

“The sponsors are how we are able to get the sign,” Fields said. He said the school district approached the businesses and proposed the sign to the sponsors, who have agreed to pay for it.

The sign includes a large digital screen the school district will be able to use to promote events at the school and to inform parents and residents of activities involving students. The Natchez district’s sign is based directly on one in use now in Hattiesburg, Fields said.

Still, Smith insisted the sponsorship on the sign amounts to billboard-like advertising. “In my opinion, it’s off premise advertising and it opens up a whole can of worms,” he said.

Commissioner Charles Harris countered, “Aren’t we dealing with a different entity here? It’s a school.”

“It’s sponsors, not necessarily advertising,” said Commissioner Mildred Chapman.

Chapman made a motion, which was seconded by Harris, to approve the school district’s sign. That motion failed by a vote of 2 to 3, McCullough, Deborah Martin and Smith voted no.

Ultimately, commissioners voted to table the issue until the school district presents a new design for the sign that minimizes the amount of space given to sponsors.

McCullough said she would like to see a design that devoted no more than a third of the space to sponsors.