Barrington council endorses concept of bringing cell tower to school property

sowams school

AT&T officials are exploring the possibility of placing a cell tower at the Sowams School location.

AT&T officials are exploring the possibility of placing a cell tower at the Sowams School location.

Early work has started on bringing a 125-foot tall cell tower to the Sowams School property.

A representative from AT&T approached the Barrington Town Council at its March 3 meeting and asked the board to endorse the concept of a cell tower on the school’s campus — the tower would be located about 50 feet west of the fenced-in baseball field.

Council member Ann Strong voiced some concern about the location of the tower: “I think it’s awfully close” to the field, she said. But other members of the council appeared quite receptive to the idea, as they voted 5-0 in favor of endorsing the concept. Bill DeWitt, the lone Republican on the council, said he lived in the Hampden Meadows area of town and was all for the increased coverage for AT&T.

Maria Wah Fitta, a local mom with children at Sowams School, does not share Mr. DeWitt’s opinion.

“I understand that everyone likes to have clear cell phone reception; however, I just don’t see how it makes sense to install anything that emits any kind of constant radiation or signal so close to the place where so many children spend most of their day,” Ms. Wah Fitta wrote in a recent email.

“Cell phones are a relatively new technology, and it is well-known that cancer cases from long-term exposure to radiation of any kind normally emerge after 20 years or more. So at this point we’re not really sure that it is safe to have this tower in close proximity to the school grounds.”

The AT&T representative told members of the council that more and more people are using cell phones and dropping their land lines altogether. He said there is also more information being transmitted to and from cell phones — the more information that is transmitted on the signals the shorter the distance the signals cover. He said that’s been the reason for the increase in cell phone towers.

The representative said he had examined other areas in Hampden Meadows that could host a cell tower. He specifically mentioned Hampden Meadows School, the Kent Street tennis courts and Sowams. He said other town-owned parcels, such as the athletic field near the Sowams Nursery property, were too far south to carry the needed signals.

The Sowams School location works well for the company, the representative said.

He added that he had examined a space behind the school closer to the access road that travels into the woods, but the space was reportedly too close to a creek. Farther north — a few feet into the woods near the ball field — the creek snakes away, providing dry land for the tower base.

Council member Kate Weymouth asked whether the land in question belonged to the school or if it was part of the Hampden Meadows Greenbelt conservation land. The AT&T representative said the land belonged to the town, “according to tax maps.”

Money is also a factor. Part of AT&T’s initial proposal includes a $15,000 per year lease offer, plus a percentage of revenue.

The proposal is due to surface before school officials in the near future. School leaders would not comment on the plan until it was presented to them.

Ms. Wah Fitta suggested is hoping local officials consider all the implications involved with the project before lending their official approval.

“I wish they had selected a location deeper into the woods, farther away from the school, or better yet, in an entirely different location,” she wrote.

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