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Hillsborough School Board refuses to halt new cell towers at schools

TAMPA — The Hillsborough School Board has shot down the County Commission's request to halt plans to raise any more cell towers at schools until concerns about community involvement are resolved.

The decision, announced Friday in a letter sent to commissioners, is sure to touch off another round in a controversy that dominated a School Board meeting earlier in the week.

Many parents at Pride Elementary in New Tampa say they didn't know their school had a cell tower until it already was built. A community meeting wasn't held until October — nearly two months after the tower had been installed.

Despite anecdotes like those and the commission's objections, School Board Chairwoman Carol Kurdell said the district will continue to allow school principals to authorize the building of towers on their campuses.

"We've complied and will continue to comply with all of the requirements in the county's land code," she said. "We always have."

In light of recent protests, commissioners also are taking another look at a land use change that made it easier to raise cell phone towers at schools without public hearings. School officials said in the letter that they don't have a problem with long-standing requirements, and will make use of them while the county studies the matter.

The uproar over cell phone towers at schools has caught many by surprise. In recent years, more than a dozen Hillsborough schools added cell towers to their campuses with relatively little attention. Principals were glad to have the extra cash, which can range into the thousands.

Then community protests over a proposed tower at south Tampa's Coleman Middle School prompted the principal to table the idea. Since then, parents have started organizing anti-cell tower campaigns in other communities.

Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5303. Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

Hillsborough School Board refuses to halt new cell towers at schools 02/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 13, 2009 11:31pm]
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