The latest in a series of public comments about a preliminary proposal for wireless carrier T-Mobile to build a cell tower on ’s property sparked spirited discussion among community members on May 11.
A potential tower, 150 feet tall and decorated with a facade featuring the school mascot, the mustang, would be placed on school grounds and the DeKalb County School System would receive an as yet unknown amount of money. Over time, the county could earn $450,000 to $1 million per tower, depending on the individual contracts, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
These proposals from various companies began a year ago. T-Mobile was the first to create a plan that was comprehensive enough for public presentation.
School properties have been chosen as potential sites because of DeKalb County’s strict zoning rules, which prohibit building any telecommunication structure in residentially-zoned areas. Lannie Greene from T-Mobile said that commercial properties suitable for towers have already been used. T-Mobile also attempts to collocate their towers on power lines, but Georgia Power has strict requirements for that, and those could not be met for the area.
Greene and Robert Linders emphasized that school properties are the last resort for tower sites and that the company needs to increase coverage, especially for customers with data-hungry smartphones.
However, Theresa Same, zoning chair of the Medlock Area Neighborhood Association, said she has knowledge of the area’s zoning types and offered to help T-Mobile find other potential tower sites.
T-Mobile engineers picked a potential location on Medlock property based on various data such as customer input and took pictures of it from four angles, creating mock-up images of what the cell tower would look like from each angle.
Other area school systems have towers on school sites. Cobb County has more than 20 schools with towers, including Sprayberry High, and Crabapple Middle in Fulton County also has a tower. Sarrio reported that the Cobb County towers each bring in $150,000 every five years on 15-year deals. However, Forsyth, Gwinnett and Cherokee counties do not allow towers on school sites.
Community members were concerned about use of the Medlock site because while the school is scheduled to close as part of DeKalb redistricting plans, school board member Don McChesney said that the site could possibly eventually become home to a school for 900 students. Many community members felt this was the wrong time to discuss this potential use for the site. The county will release a 10-year plan in August with more details on Medlock’s future.
Concerns were also discussed regarding radio frequency emissions from a tower. T-Mobile’s Mark Robinette explained that different wireless carriers use different frequencies for their signals, but that the total output was below a watt. A tower emits about 0.1 microwatts per square centimeter of radio waves, he said. A wireless router emits 0.13 microwatts per square centimeter, a cordless phone emits 15 microwatts per square centimeter and a police radio emits 250 microwatts per square centimeter.
“The reality is, you will get more RF [radio frequency] from your color television set than you will this tower,” said T-Mobile’s Ed Trego. “The reason for this is because the antenna is 150 feet in the air.”
The T-Mobile representatives stressed that the proposal was only preliminary and that the final decision lies with the board of education but that the board sought public comment.
“This is not an all-or-nothing proposal,” Trego said. “If this group of individuals feels that this is inappropriate at this location, that’s the purpose of this meeting. Call your board of education representative.”