The Falls Church News-Press has partnered with George Mason High School’s award-winning newspaper, The Lasso, to bring its readers some of the top articles appearing in the student-run digital paper. This regular feature will appear monthly in the News-Press during the school year. The Lasso can be found online at www.gmhslasso.org.
Former GMHS Senior Gift Shows No Signs of Life
By Laura Whitaker
Just two years after the school spent $23,531.97 for a new digital marquee at the Haycock Road entrance, the sign sits dormant in a back parking lot and students and staff are scratching their heads about what happened.
“The whole thing is a mystery,” said Brian Fowler, head of the maintenance department at George Mason High School.
“We wanted it so desperately and now we can’t use it. It’s here, it’s really frustrating,” said GMHS Principal Ty Byrd.
This seems to be the reaction from administrators, staff, and students across George Mason. The short life of the digital marquee, which was meant to be a modern update to the original brick-and-plastic sign that stands on Route 7, raises more questions than it provides answers.
The sign was paid for with money raised by the graduating classes of 2011, 2012, and 2013 who donated their leftover class money to FCCPS to be used toward the project.
According to Seve Padilla, the school’s Director of Facilities and Services, GMHS administrators met “numerous times” to discuss the plan and a few vendors came to give proposals. In the end, the group decided on this particular model.
The sign arrived at the school on September 26, 2013 and stood at the Haycock Road entrance until the end of the school year of 2015. When students returned in September, 2015, the sign was gone, stashed away in a parking lot behind the Science wing.
“It’s unfortunate that the sign didn’t see much use,” said Stu Harvey, class of 2013 SCA president.
“It’s disappointing to hear that the digital marquee is out of commission…. That couldn’t have been cheap.” said Karishma John, the class of 2010 SCA president who contributed in the class’s donation of the mustang statue on the school football field.
The digital marquee posed problems almost immediately.
The first was the location, which did not have an electrical source, forcing the school to power the sign using gasoline and a generator.
Therefore, every morning facilities staff members had to feed the generator five gallons of gasoline.
The digital marquee displayed messages like “Click it before you get ticket” or simply, “Welcome to George Mason High School.” It did not, unlike the vision of the students who helped pay for it, display school and athletic announcements.
“[One] good question is, how come the high school never got control of that so we could put messages on it?” said William Snyder, co-sponsor of the senior class.
In addition, according to Padilla, the LED screen on the sign had a bad computer processor, which necessitated an outside contractor to come and perform repairs.
That, ultimately, led to the death of the sign.
“When the contractor made the repairs, we arrived one morning to find our locks cut and generator stolen,” Padilla said.
Unlike what Snyder and the students envisioned, the school never even had control of what appeared on the screen. Instead, the FCCPS central office did. This means it took a lot longer than planned to display one simple message.
According to Padilla, “The reason it wasn’t being updated as much is due to the fact that it was running on the generator rather than from a permanent power source. This caused it to lose its network connection continuously because it was powered off at night and back on in the mornings.”
This particular sign – which caused so many headaches for all – was purchased intentionally to be portable, so it could be moved from its trailer and mounted permanently somewhere else. However, as of today, the future of the sign is in limbo.
“We’re trying to find a place to put it,” said Mr. Byrd. “But also we’re trying to get a new building, so if we do the hardware wiring to put it [here], and when we destroy the building and move away, then we’ll have to build it again.”
“I think future senior classes should do a little more research for projects like these so we all know everything there is to know,” said Fowler..
These articles plus more from The Lasso available at www.gmhslasso.org.