STOP! Sign shop  keeps residents safe and saves money

Sign printing 4
When you break at a stop sign, yield to pedestrians in a school zone, or turn onto a given street you probably do not think much about how those signs got there. But for some cities the time needed to get a sign installed can take much longer than expected, and depending on its customization, can be quite expensive. 

Three years ago, the Richfield Public Works Department made a decision that many cities do not: they decided to print their own signs. With the cost of a sign-specific printer and the other associated materials, it was no small investment. In all, it cost approximately $24,000 to get the operation up and running. But since then, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, that investment has been invaluable.

Before the city started printing its signs in-house, it would cost approximately $25 dollars to order customized parking prohibition signs. Plus, it would take several weeks for them to arrive from the vendor. Now, the same project can take less than a few hours and cost less than $3.

“Some people might think that there is a sign catalog or warehouse that has every sign that a city, county or state transportation department might need, but that is not the case,” explained Public Works Operations Supervisor Mark Huiskes. “In reality, outside of your standard stop, yield and no-parking signs, most signs you see are custom and need to be made individually.”  

The highly-reflective lamination process also ensures that each sign will last at least ten years before it needs to be replaced. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the city has had to create a lot of specific signs for the city’s parks and other recreation areas to explain the ever-changing state health and safety guidelines. The Public Works Department estimates that it printed and installed more than 1,000 total signs in 2020.

“Typically, we create and install roughly 200 signs a year in Richfield,” said Public Works Operations Superintendent Chris Link. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a couple weeks where we were installing 200 signs a week.”  

Like everyone else, when the pandemic hit in March 2020, cities had to make do with what they had. Some cities used printer paper to post outdoor recreation COVID-19 guidelines, having to replace them almost daily as they were beaten by the ever-changing weather. In Richfield, the majority of these types of signs were printed in March and April of 2020 and are still in use today.

“Our number one priority through the pandemic has been to keep residents safe,” stated Recreation Services Director Amy Markle. “We knew we had to keep residents informed of the different guidelines around various recreation activities and we were able to do that in an effective and efficient manner thanks to the Public Works Department’s ability to print their own signs.”

By printing its own signs, the Public Works Department inadvertently contributed to the city’s sustainability goals. When an old sign is removed and replaced, it is not thrown away, it is kept until a sign of similar size is needed, and then a new sign face is printed and adhered to the metal backing.

“Richfield's Public Works staff keeping all the old sign blanks and reusing them to print new signs is a perfect example of reduce, re-use and recycle,” remarked Sustainability Specialist Rachel Lindholm. “It is great for both environmental and economic sustainability.”

Here is hoping that 2021 will require much less city signage to be created, but if that is not the case and another emergency arises, the Richfield Public Works Department is ready.