Of all cell tower zoning cases, school sites can be some of the most controversial and unpredictable. For school systems desperate for funding, a lease can mean a big windfall. For example, the Greater Latrobe, Pa., school board approved a Verizon site on the roof of a senior high school, which will bring in nearly half a million dollars over 20 years.
But for every success story you read, there are numerous situations where a cell site proposal at a school stirs controversy. For example, Milestone Communications, which has a master lease agreement with Anne Arundel County (Md.) Public Schools, recently met with stiff opposition from parents concerning a cell tower proposal at an elementary school in the school district. And in Land O’ Lakes, Fla., parents concerned about health effects lobbied against a proposed cell tower that would bring a million dollars into the school system over 30 years.
Deborah Hill, who spoke on cell tower zoning at the AGL Conference in Chicago in September, shared with AGL Link some of the strategies that she has developed for siting cell towers on school property.
Hill, who is a real estate lawyer in Chicago, advises that a system should be set up to give parents and teachers comfort about a proposed cell site. An agreement form can be specifically developed to address cell siting at schools, which requires carriers to submit architectural drawings, structural calculations and a chimney inspection report if the antenna was to be mounted there.
“We need to know that the installation was not going to do undue physical harm to the school,” Hill told AGL Link.
Second, there should be a requirement for an RF emissions report from the carrier that lookd at the emissions of their equipment and any other RF transmissions with 10 miles of the school to make sure emissions with the additional antenna would still be under the FCC guidelines for what is considered safe for biological tissue.
“That really helps to reassure the parents to know that we are not taking risks with their children,” Hill said. “We have thought through the safety of their children and everything is covered.”
Hill has had success in winning over a school that was opposed because of RF concerns by using third-party experts to educate the parents.
“The most successful method has been using college professors who have spent their lives studying these RF questions, which may counteract suspicions of the parents. The motivations of the carriers are questioned by the parents because they have a vested interest in seeing the placement go forward,” she said.
Schools that are in better socioeconomic circumstances may turn down cellular antenna placements simply because they do not need the money and don’t want the inconvenience of carriers needing access to their equipment. But for many schools, the lease money can be “pretty darn persuasive,” according to Hill.