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Civic wants lights turned off

The principal of Bayside High School defended an electronic LED sign near its front door that is used for announcements after a neighborhood civic organization complained the colorful lights distracted residents living near the site.

The sign, which went up right before the beginning of the school year, was paid for with $33,000 raised through school alumni and private donations, said Michael Athy, principal of the school at 32-24 Corporal Kennedy St. It took five years to get necessary permits for the sign, he said.

“Bayside High School is a local asset that functions as a community center,” Athy said. “There is no battle over the sign. The [city Department of Buildings] approved it, but now they’ve been coming up with reasons why it’s illegal. Obviously, if it is, we’ll make the necessary changes.”

The sign is an electronic LED display, which can be controlled from a centralized location through software and a transmitter.

Athy said the sign is used for announcing PTA meetings, open houses, student performances and other events.

But the East Bayside Homeowners Association’s president, Frank Skala, said the sign bothered neighbors.

“You can’t have illuminated signs in residential neighborhoods,” he said. “And it’s within 60 feet of a public park. It looks like a sign you’d see on the Las Vegas strip. The neighbors don’t want it for obvious reasons.”

The sign faces Bayside’s Raymond O’Connor Park.

A DOB spokeswoman said illuminated signs are not allowed in residential district unless they are for a hospital or a related facility.

Skala said he donated money for the sign’s creation in 2004, but at the time he understood that it would be a plain white sign.

“I think the expression is bait and switch,” Skala said.

Skala recently wrote a letter to his civic organization, blasting the sign, after Athy made mention of its “causing numerous residents (well, actually, like one) great distress” in his weekly calendar newsletter.

“He has not contacted me at all by phone or writing,” Skala said. “I asked him to turn the sign off and eventually have it removed.”

But the principal said Skala asked him to turn off the sign’s colors and only operate it at specific hours during an October meeting at the school. Now, the sign only is illuminated from around 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., he said.

“We agreed to everything he wanted,” Athy said. “We’ve gotten one other complaint from one person on the first day it was lit up. But, as far as we know, we went through all the right processes.”

David Solano, president of the school’s PTA, said he did not believe many community residents were bothered by the display.

“Frank Skala was saying it was burning into the windows on the side of the street, but it’s across from a park,” he said. “The school did not violate any DOB procedures — we did not break any rules.”

He said the sign was put up through the city School Construction Authority and that the school had not yet been contacted by the DOB.

Melvyn Meer, a Community Board 11 member, said he wanted to know how the sign was approved in the first place.

“The sign is illegal, but somehow it was given a permit,” he said. “We need an investigation.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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