Barrington parents: ‘No’ to cell tower at Sowams School

Barrington parents: ‘No’ to cell tower at Sowams School

School committee member Bob Shea (right) receives some clarification about the cell tower proposed for property near Sowams School.

School committee member Bob Shea (right) receives some clarification about the cell tower proposed for property near Sowams School.
School committee member Bob Shea (right) receives some clarification about the cell tower proposed for property near Sowams School.
Moms and dads from across Barrington — not just those with students at Sowams School — told the school committee Thursday night that they do not want a 125-foot cell tower erected just a few hundred feet from Sowams School.

Dozens of people filled the seven rows of chairs and stood shoulder to shoulder along the walls inside the Barrington School Committee meeting room. They waited while a man who works for the company that installs towers for AT&T offered his presentation, and then they sat through another 30-minute report about the performance of local students on standardized tests.

When the floor was finally opened to them, the local parents (and some folks who own homes near the proposed cell tower site) unrolled a laundry list of reasons as to why the project should be denied.

Maria Wah Fitta, who has two children at Sowams School, told members of the school committee she was very concerned with the potential health risks surrounding the installation of a cell phone tower near Sowams. She pointed toward the radiation that would be emitted from the tower as well as the workers who would be frequenting the property during construction and maintenance of the structure. Ms. Wah Fitta said everyone who volunteers at the school is required to complete a background check, but the people who would be working on the tower would not, and that even “one incident would be too many.”

Former Barrington Town Council member Jeff Brenner said the current council was wrong to send the issue to the school committee with a preliminary endorsement. Mr. Brenner, who lives on Chantilly Drive which abuts the woods where the tower would be built, said AT&T’s proposal — including the 12-foot-wide gravel access road that would cut across the school’s playing fields — was “a bad proposal.”

Barrington Schools Superintendent Mike Messore looks at some of the cell tower plans.
Barrington Schools Superintendent Mike Messore looks at some of the cell tower plans.
Mr. Brenner questioned how drainage in the area would be affected by the construction, and said he is an AT&T customer and has not experienced dropped calls or other problems. He said there was not enough information provided supporting the installation of a cell tower.

As current chairman of the town’s charter review commission, Mr. Brenner also mentioned a conversation that had taken place recently where his commission members asked how the town could get more people to attend the annual financial town meeting.

Mr. Brenner said there is a simple way to attract a large crowd of people to a meeting, similar to the situation displayed at the school committee meeting Thursday night: “Do something stupid,” he said.

A woman who lives on Walnut Road told the school committee there was growing evidence of the health concerns surrounding cell towers. She added that there was no need for the new tower and asked committee members what she needed to do in order to stop the project and offered to go door to door to collect 10,000 names on a petition. She also asked people in the audience to stand up if they opposed the cell tower at Sowams — everyone there stood up.

A woman whose daughter is set to attend Nayatt School next fall told the committee that she would not want her daughter going to school in the shadow of a cell tower.

Another resident whose daughter attends Sowams School reminded school committee members that Sowams is the only elementary school without stairs in the district and therefore is home to students who are medically fragile or physically limited. She said her daughter has had to undergo a number of tests and been exposed to elevated radiation levels and that she and her daughter’s doctors monitor closely the young girl’s levels. She then told committee members that this proposed cell tower would be located 350 feet from the classroom containing many of the district’s medically fragile students.

For about an hour, residents shared their concerns with members of the school committee and then one by one asked them to deny the project.

When the public was finished speaking, school committee chairwoman Kate Brody reminded everyone that the committee would vote on the issue at its April 17 meeting. She also invited them to attend the town council meeting set for Monday night, April 7. Last month, the council voted 5-0 to endorse the concept of a cell tower at Sowams School.

Committee members speak

While no official vote was taken at the April 3 meeting, two school committee members did offer interesting comments. Patrick Guida said he was confident that the school committee held the power to approve or deny a project like this, not the town council. And Scott Fuller said there was no amount of money AT&T could offer to buy his approval for the cell tower. The crowd of parents erupted with applause upon hearing that comment.


  1. Despite the irrational fears about health issues, cell towers are not known to cause any detrimental health effects, at least according to the American Cancer Society. I tend to trust their judgement more so than that of uninformed parents. The parents’ arguments just sound silly and uninformed. Mr. Brenner’s arguments are the only ones that have some basis, although I think his motivation is property value, not safety concerns, which is fine.

    I think this is just another example of Barrington parents getting bent out of shape over nothing and impeding progress. I’m sure that my Sowams student will suffer no ill effects from a cell tower.

    • Sir, you are entitled to your opinion no matter what the American Cancer society says on the subject, and I respect that. But just to make the record clear, the American Cancer Society does cite a British study stating that there is a slightly higher risk in the incidence of cancer in children living near a cell tower, over a five year period. Last night the point was raised that not every child has the same baseline exposure to radiation, and therefore not all children are equally at risk. Children who already have complicated medical issues may have a higher baseline exposure due to exposure received during medical testing. Sowams school houses a population of these students, because it does not have stairs and offers greater accessibility than any of the other K-3rd grade schools in town. Federal law mandates that children with disabilities should be taught in the least restrictive environment, which in Barrington for the K-3rd grade population is Sowams. The link below will take you to the page where the British study is mentioned.

    • C’mon Seth, even assuming that Sowams students would suffer no ill effects from a cell tower…what benefits would they reap from it’s presence? I can’t think of any. “Progress” can be thought of in many ways. With no benefit to the school, students, or educators…and simply because it would mar their playground to benefit a private company…that should be reason enough to reject this plan.

      • Hahaha. Hi Michael. My wife wants me to try to stay anonymous for fear that all the angry parents will shun our family over my disagreement on the health issue. Here’s an email that I wrote to a friend who is concerned about this:

        I don’t think it’s a safety issue. I think that’s just the fear of the masses. Mountains out of molehills on that one. (There are cell towers everywhere and all the studies showing a correlation between health and proximity to cell towers, which are very few, do not show causation – which means that the studies base their findings on conjecture – just as the parents are doing).
        However, there are some good arguments against it, which seem to be pushed toward the background. The best argument against, in my opinion, is that it will require access through the school playground, and perhaps a gravel pathway through the playground. The argument goes something like “We want to preserve the grounds as a playground – we don’t want an accessway to the cell tower.” And also “we don’t want AT&T workers having access to the school grounds while school is underway – no other adults have this kind of access for safety reasons.”

        I don’t know what the procedure is for this one. I’m not on the planning board anymore – which is why I can write to you about it. But if it does come before the planning board, I think those arguments (especially the first one) will be given a good amount of weight.

        • So in short. I agree with you. I think it’s not the best place for a cell tower. But I think the health argument is a lot of baloney.

      • Another thing to consider is what other, alternative locations AT&T looked at. AT&T proposed this site, but I guarantee they also looked at alternative sites when they did their study. I have no idea if this came up at the meeting, but it should have. And if AT&T said that there is only “one suitable site for meeting our needs and it happens to be at Sowams school” then I think they’re probably not telling the whole story. Ask them to present all the other alternative locations they looked at.

        • I agree with you..and this may be the primary point to consider. AT&T said “the computer” (their term) determined that the optimal location was approximately a quarter mile to the south of the school. They then draw a circle around that point with the acceptable radius and look for a good location. I’m guessing if that map with a circle was handed to anybody without an ulterior motive, they would pick a location other than the elementary school playground.

      • In addition, my understanding is that AT&T does not own the land and does not have plans to buy it. So, AT&T has no inherent right to build on the land, unlike other projects in town such as Palmer Point. (e.g. in palmer point, the developer plans to purchase the land). Therefore, procedurally, public opposition to the tower should be enough to prevent it even without any reason given. Unlike projects such as Palmer Point, I do not believe there is any legal requirement to provide reasons or rationale for opposing the project. Though I do still think the health issue is a bunch of malarchy.

  2. 4/ 4/ 2014 3:45 PM
    1. Call to Order
    2. Pledge of Allegiance
    8. Correspondence:
    • Cell Tower

  3. There are health concerns indeed.

    Not to mention safety issues that would come from having vehicles and unauthorized workers going in and out of the school grounds unchecked, especially if that access road were to be located through the baseball field.

    That baseball field, by the way, is used every single day of the week as -amazingly- a baseball field, where children from all over town practice and play. The idea of having it partially paved over or covered in gravel simply to please any private company is ridiculous.

    Next, the height proposed for the tower is enormous. Almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty. That sounds like something no one would enjoy looking at from their window or back yard. And apparently the Town Council requested a 25 ft. Extension to that height in the future. Good thing we have forward thinkers looking out for our best interests.

    Property values would surely go down in the vicinity of the tower, and if I heard this correctly and the information presented at the meeting is true, the radiation reaches as far as a 2 mile radius, which encompasses a great portion of the town. Whether anyone believes in health effects being linked to these emissions or not, these are certainly additional points about which every one of us should probably worry.

  4. Bunch of privileged, white bread NIMBYs. If someone told them that sunlight was harmful to their spoiled little brats they’d probably believe it.