Information board draws critics on campus and in community


The large, state-of-the-art video board nestled in the corner of Les Prince Field was supposed to remedy the problem of alerting the entire McMaster community to coming events.

Instead, the structure, dubbed the “Mactron,” has created an even bigger headache.

Since its unveiling in late October, an array of concerns and complaints have been lodged concerning the board. They range from disapproval of the commercial advertising that is interspersed with campus programming to the bright glow that illuminates nearby Mayfair Crescent at night.

“The board's typical advertising is for a wide variety of consumer products and services,” wrote Paul Rapoport, a music professor, in the March 2000 issue of the McMaster University Faculty Association newsletter. “It also occasionally contains notices about campus events. But no one, apart from a very few administrators, agreed to a constant, day-in, day-out barrage of distracting computer-driven graphics. The board has struck many as a gigantic, garish eyesore, a hazard to driving, and an insult to the University.”

Rapoport is concerned that the administration misled both the campus community and the city about the nature of the sign, applying for a scoreboard permit rather than that of an advertising sign. He also feels the sign violates university procedure because it was not approved by the proper university authorities.

“The process of receiving and placing the advertising board, as well as dealing with its problems, has taken place among a very few administrators,” he said.

It has been within the last month that Therese Quigley, director of athletics & recreation, has been inundated with such reaction from within the McMaster community as well as residents of the nearby neighborhood.

“We've listened to all their concerns and we have been working with both groups to find common solutions,” Quigley says. “There are some people that just don't like it, no matter how we emphasize its potential and purpose.

“For every person that says they don't like it, there are several people who say they do. People are not ambivalent. The reaction has been clear – either you like it or you don't.”

Alumnus Paul Leskew and his family, with the support of Coca-Cola, donated the board, valued at one million dollars. The Mactron was manufactured and funded without a single dollar of student, university or government money.

It is the first university video board in Canada and the first rotating video board in North America. The structure is fourteen by twenty-four feet (or two stories high) in size, and features 16.7 million colours and full motion video.

The board was meant to be a modern marketing and promotional tool that would benefit the entire campus. Quigley thinks that purpose has been achieved.

She is proud to point out 47 different clubs, departments and groups from across campus have sent messages out on the board. It is a diverse list ranging from university departments, like the Department of Anesthesia and the registrar's office, to student services and clubs, such as the Aikido Club and African Caribbean Association.
The School of Art, Drama & Music is the most frequent user of the service, having posted 37 different messages between Oct. 23 and March 31.

“It has tremendous potential. We saw this as an opportunity to provide a source of information to any and every event happening on campus,” Quigley said. “It needs to be in a location where it would have prominence and become a vehicle for information on campus.”

That makes finding solutions to critics' concerns much more difficult. Contractual obligations make moving the board to another location difficult and would threaten its prominence. Commercial advertising is necessary to cover the expenses of maintaining the board.

“It's a great piece of technology which can be useful to everyone,” Quigley says. “I'm hopeful we'll find an appropriate solution which will satisfy everyone.”