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Coleman fields friction over cell tower idea

CULBREATH HEIGHTS — The prospect of a 100-foot-tall cell phone tower on the property of Coleman Middle School worries some parents.

Coleman, at 1724 Manhattan Ave., is near Dale Mabry Elementary, St. Mary's Episcopal Day School, and a municipal pool and football fields.

Ari FitzGerald, an area mother, would be able to see the tower from her house. She doesn't think the tower should be so close to children and said cell phone technology is too new to know the effects of radio waves over long periods of time.

"I'm opposed to using our kids as guinea pigs," she said.

But proponents of the tower say it poses little threat to kids and point to the revenue it can generate for the school.

Annual rent of nearly $11,250 would be paid to the school district per cell phone carrier for the site. Ninety percent of that could go directly to Coleman. Up to three carriers could use the antenna. The lease amount would increase by 4 percent annually.

Principal Michael Hoskinson said the money could be used to subsidize a shrinking budget.

"Just to supply kids with what they need, we need to find new revenue streams," he said.

A recent meeting held by Coleman administrators and representatives of the company proposing the tower did little to assuage FitzGerald's fears.

"I'm very concerned about the unknowns, specifically the health concerns," she said. "We asked very specific questions and got very vague answers."

Stacy Frank, president of Collier Enterprises II, the company that would build the tower, calls it harmless.

Cell phone antennas use the UHF signal spectrum formerly used by television broadcasts. This tower would use a 45-watt signal. By comparison, Frank noted, at least one local TV station tower is cleared by the Federal Communications Commission for up to 5-million watts.

Suzanne Oakley, whose son is in eighth grade at Coleman, says the lack of empirical data proving that towers won't affect children is troublesome.

"This is the school system's way of subsidizing their budgets at the expense of the kids," she said.

But Hoskinson, whose children will one day attend Coleman, said he puts safety first.

"At no point would I go forward if I felt it would put kids at risk," he said.

Frank, whose company erected a similar tower at Robles Elementary in May, says the tower would give off the same amount of radiation as a baby monitor or garage door opener.

"There is more radio frequency in the classrooms than off of the antenna," she said.

A growing number of schools are turning to cell phone companies for extra cash. Before signing a contract with Collier Enterprises, however, Hoskinson wants to hold another community meeting to hear from representatives of Dale Mabry Elementary and others in the area. That meeting has not been scheduled.

"I'm going to let the community decide," he said, "but I want them to make an educated decision."

If you know of news in your community, contact Joshua Neiderer at jneiderer@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

Coleman fields friction over cell tower idea 11/13/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 14, 2008 9:14pm]
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