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Chamber raising funds for new sign

Getting a new electronic sign for the Powell Valley Chamber of Commerce will be a community-wide effort.

Local governments and organizations have already pledged around $13,750 toward the new reader board, which is expected to cost around $23,000. Now, Powell Economic Partnership (PEP) — which manages the chamber’s operations — plans to ask local citizens, businesses and organizations to cover the rest.

“I’ll be looking to the community to raise that other part, because in my mind it’s not a chamber member benefit, it’s really a community benefit, … so if you don’t want it, don’t fund it,” PEP Executive Director Christine Bekes explained at a Park County Commission meeting last month.

The Powell Charitable Foundation has pledged to match up to $6,000 in private donations, which PEP plans to solicit by mail and email.

In visiting with local businesses and community members last winter, PEP and chamber leaders heard a desire for more “marketing and promotions of the community — both internally, within the community, and also outside the community,” Bekes said. That’s one reason why chamber leaders want to replace the current reader board.

The sign is in “perfect position on the four lanes,” on Coulter Avenue in front of the chamber building. However, it has letters that must be physically put into place, meaning “you have to battle the elements, and ... if the event happens on Saturday and we changed it on Friday, it’s going to be dated until we get around to changing it again,” Bekes said.

Switching to an electronic message board will not only save staff time, but also allow multiple messages to be displayed at one time, as the sign can cycle through different events, she said.

Bekes approached four entities that she believes will really benefit from the new sign and asked them each to contribute $2,500: Northwest College, Powell Valley Healthcare, the Park County government and the Powell school district.

Northwest College agreed to provide the funding. Park County commissioners similarly voted to chip in the $2,500 through the county’s Events Department.

“I think that will be a good draw for our facility,” Park County Events Coordinator Teecee Barrett said of the sign and its potential for the fairgrounds.

The Powell Valley Healthcare Board — comprising all seven members of the Powell Hospital District board and three medical officers — recently voted to contribute $1,250, with the Powell Medical Foundation committing the other $1,250.

“I do think it’s a good idea,” said PVHC Board President R.J. Kost. “Driving down main street, you may be able to see things that are important to us,” such as PVHC public events and programs, Kost said.

Meanwhile, Park County School District No. 1 board members expressed support for the project, but were hesitant to give money.

“It’s not right to ask principals to cut their budgets and then give that $2,500 to somebody else outside their district,” Greg Borcher, chairman of the Powell school board said at an August meeting.

Superintendent Jay Curtis said his understanding is that, in the past, reader boards at Powell schools were funded with contributions from parent groups. While saying he’d like to see the new reader board, “you just don’t change precedent because you want something,” Curtis said.

School board member Don Hansen said he was on the fence about the contribution. He said the school district does a “fantastic job” communicating its events through emails, but said the new sign would be a good way to reach people who don’t have kids in the school system.

“I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity for us or anybody to get some more communication with our patrons out there,” Hansen said.

He suggested the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) could contribute toward the reader board. Hansen serves on BOCES, which oversees Powell Valley Community Education and which has roughly $250,000 in reserve accounts.

“That would be a worthwhile donation of some of those funds,” agreed Trace Paul, who serves on the school board and is a past BOCES board member. “They could use it to advertise some of their community education events.”

School board members also suggested other school-related groups that may be interested in contributing to the chamber’s new sign, such as the Powell Schools Foundation, Powell Athletic Roundtable or parent groups. Bekes said last week that she’s still working on raising that $2,500.

Powell Rotary, meanwhile, has agreed to contribute $250.

In soliciting money from the county, school district, hospital and college, Bekes said upfront that she would be including their events on the board — regardless of whether they chipped in money.

The sign will feature events, but not advertisements for businesses.

“It’s a community feature and it will be for the community,” Bekes said.

In terms of how the new sign will look, Bekes said the sign at Blair’s Market might be the closest comparison — more advanced than simple red LED lights, but not as advanced as the one at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. The sign will be the same size as the current one.

— Tribune staffers Tessa Baker and Ilene Olson contributed reporting to this story.

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