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.”
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.