By Bill Kirk
---- — Just when you thought it was safe to put a banner across Main Street, some town officials are now looking askance at the idea.
After nearly a decade of permitting, approvals and wrangling, the Andover Business Community Association finally got the OK to hang a banner advertising Andover Day from two buildings near Elm Square.
For a week earlier this month, the blue and yellow banner, in the colors of Andover High School, swayed in the breeze some 30 feet overhead, attached to anchors on buildings on either side of Main Street.
Andover Day, held Sept. 7, came and went, and the banner was credited with helping boost the crowd to nearly 10,000 people.
But the next day, an ill wind blew and the banner, made of rip-stop nylon, was stretched to its breaking point.
In fact, town officials believe, a metal, spring-hinged clip holding the banner may have come loose. It then flew through the air, they surmise, and smashed into the second-story window of The Bridal Center building at 1 Main St., leaving a softball-sized hole and some cracks in the outer layer of the double-paned window.
“It was not the cable, but the attachment might have flown off during the wind,” Jack Norton, manager of the bridal building, said. “That’s what they think happened.”
Acting Plant and Facilities Director Ed Ataide said pieces of metal clips were found on the road under the banner.
“It’s possible,” Ataide said, when asked if the clips broke the window. “Nobody knows for sure. The bottom of the banner had clips on it.”
Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski said the banner may have been improperly made.
According to the town bylaw, banners may be no more than 30 feet long and 36 inches high. The Andover Day banner complied with those requirements.
However, all banners are supposed to have U-shaped wind openings every 5 feet. The Andover Day banner did not have those vents, Stapczynski said, so when the wind blew on Sept. 8, the force was too great and the clips holding the base of the banner to the steel cable may have given way.
Not everyone is so sure that the banner caused the damage, however.
Mark Spencer, a former downtown business owner and past president of the Rotary Club of Andover, worked for nine years to get the banner hung across Main Street. He said while the bottom of the banner appeared to be flapping around on Monday, Sept. 9, two days after Andover Day, it isn’t to blame for the broken window.
“Buzz is trying to connect the broken window to the banner,” he said, adding that there was no conclusive proof that the banner was at fault. “It’s highly unlikely.”
Yet, the ABCA has agreed to cover the cost of the window damage.
“The ABCA has graciously offered to pay even though it’s unlikely that’s how it happened,” Spencer said. “It looks more like a rock was thrown through it.”
Spencer has become accustomed to opposition to the banner. When he first proposed it nine years ago, he and other ABCA members were told that since the town didn’t have a bylaw regarding banners, they were illegal.
So Spencer and his banner comrades set about writing a bylaw, which was approved by Town Meeting. But then they found they couldn’t raise the money to install heavy-duty poles that would be required to hoist the banner.
Earlier this year, a breakthrough came about when the owner of two Main Street buildings offered to let the ABCA anchor the steel cables from the corner of his properties.
Flying high, at a price
While the town foot the bill for the actual hanging of the Andover Day banner, future groups looking to hoist a banner may be faced with an additional hurdle: cost.
Stapczynski told selectmen at a recent meeting that future groups will likely be charged about $1,000 in overtime and other costs associated with shutting down Main Street to allow a town crew to hang and then lower future banners into place.
Groups must also get an insurance binder in case of damage or injury potentially caused by the banner.
Combined with the $1,200 cost of manufacturing a banner, the additional expense could make it prohibitive for most groups working on shoestring budgets to fly banners promoting town activities such as Holiday Happenings, Andover Day and Clown Town.
Selectmen were generally outraged by the idea of charging local, nonprofit groups such a high price to hang a banner.
“That is not a reasonable burden to put on a community group,” Selectman Mary Lyman said. “Sometimes we have policies that aren’t practical.”
But Stapczynski said the town is governed by “very specific requirements. That group has to be prepared to pay for police and plant and facilities. It’s a little under $1,000.”
“These are nonprofits,” Selectman Paul Salafia said. “One thousand dollars is out there.”
While selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli said it took less than two hours to hang the Andover Day banner, Stapczynski said town workers must be paid a minimum of four hours when they work overtime, even if they only do an hour’s worth of work. To minimize disruption on the roadway, the Andover Day banner was hung by 6 a.m.
Selectman Dan Kowalski questioned whether the town would be charged to hang a banner advertising a town-sponsored event. It would be, the town manager said.
“We have to find a way to do it cheaper,” Kowalski said. “Why would anyone do it if it cost them $3,000 for a banner?”
Salafia said he wanted the town to provide the banner hanging as a service, “using our resources and facilities.” But Stapczynski said it wasn’t his call.
“The burden I have is the bylaw says the applicant has to cover the cost,” the town manager said.
Kowalski asked if the bylaw should be restructured and presented to Town Meeting for modification.
Meanwhile, Ataide said the Andover Day banner design and installation was kind of a test to see how well it would work. That’s why the town covered the cost the first time around.
“We ironed out the issues for future banners,” he said.