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April 2, 2014

School board to consider cell towers on three schools

By Mary Beth Almond
C & G Staff Writer

ROCHESTER — Rochester Community Schools has been approached by a cellphone provider interested in installing a cell tower on the property of three local schools.

The Board of Education recently released a board brief to alert the public of the development.

“Occasionally, the Rochester Community Schools Board of Education receives inquiries about activities taking place within the greater Rochester area which may or may not be relative to the district’s activities,” the brief said.

District officials went on to say that administrators are in the preliminary stages of discussing the request — which involves Hugger Elementary, Brewster Elementary and Reuther Middle schools  — but noted that a recommendation has not been presented to the Board of Education.

The district currently contracts with AT&T and T-Mobile for the placement of two cell towers on district property, at Adams High School, which has resulted in total revenues in excess of $310,000, according to district officials.

“We will continue to explore alternative revenue resources for the district as part of our goal for fiscal responsibility and sustainability,” the Board of Education said in the brief.

Some people in the community have concerns about the safety of cell towers on school property. At press time, 162 people had signed a five-day-old change.org petition created by district parent Erin Bates aimed at persuading the district to deny the new cell towers.

Bates — who has children at the high school and middle school levels, as well as at Hugger Elementary School — said her initial concern is the radiation that’s emitted from the cell tower.

“I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding it. Some people have said that the American Cancer Society says that there is no proven studies that show that it does emit the cancer-causing radiation, which I completely disagree with,” she said.

In her petition, Bates quotes information from www.infowars.com claiming that living within a certain proximity to a cell phone tower increases the risk of cancer.

“Our children spend seven hours a day, 180 days out of the year on this property. If the school district isn’t looking out for the best interest of our children, who will?” she said in the petition.

The board addressed concerns about cellphone tower safety in the board brief by providing information from the American Cancer Society.

The brief said “Cellphones communicate with nearby cell towers mainly through radio frequency waves, a form of energy in the electromagnetic spectrum between FM radio waves and microwaves. Like FM radio waves, microwaves, visible light and heat, they are forms of nonionizing radiation. Public exposure to radio waves from cellphone tower antennas is slight for several reasons. The power levels are relatively low, the antennas are mounted high above ground level, and the signals are transmitted intermittently, rather than constantly. At ground level, near typical cellular base stations, the amount of RF energy is thousands of times less than the limits for safe exposure set by the U.S. Federal Communication Commission and other regulatory authorities. It is very unlikely that a person could be exposed to RF levels in excess of these limits just by being near a cellphone tower.”

Bates said it’s really hard for her to even understand how the school district would even consider the cell towers.

“They are not saying yes or no (at this point), but to even consider it, to me, is just disgusting. If one child 10 years from now gets this, that’s one too many. If it affected one person, that’s too many, when it could be negated,” she said. “You can’t buy my kids’ health. I feed them healthy food and I get them outside to exercise and I do everything that I can. I’m not going to throw it away.”

Bates, who plans to formally address the board during its April 14 meeting, encourages others to educate themselves on the issue and voice their concerns at the meeting.

“People just need to educate themselves and see what this is actually doing to people and really understand the effect that it’s having on individuals,” she said.

If administrators bring a recommendation to the Board of Education regarding cell towers, district officials said, that discussion would be held in public at a regular board meeting in accordance with the Open Meetings Act.

A district spokesperson declined to comment further on the issue at press time.