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Parents oppose cell tower at Pride Elementary

NEW TAMPA — A South Tampa school's decision last week to nix plans for a cell tower has inspired parents at another school to try and bring down their cell tower.

On Tuesday, parents at Pride Elementary in New Tampa asked principal Jamie Johnson for a communitywide meeting to voice their opposition to the tower.

At the very least, Pride parents hope to prevent more towers from going up, said Mary Meckley, who has a son in the school.

She celebrated last week when Coleman Middle School scratched plans to put up a cell tower. The move came less than 48 hours after more than 300 parents and residents packed the school cafeteria and demanded the principal not build a tower.

The school had dedicated space on its Web site and outdoor marquee to alerts about the communitywide meeting.

"I wish our principal would have given us a voice," Meckley said. "Whether she agrees with it or not is not the issue. It's giving people a voice. We want the meeting they never gave to us."

A cell tower went up at Pride Elementary on Aug. 23, but only the PTA executive board and the school's advisory council knew what was coming. Meckley, who worries the tower exposes students to potentially hazardous radio frequency emissions, said she didn't receive official notice until early September when Johnson announced it to the rest of the school in a PTA newsletter.

The tower was up for more than six weeks before Pride hosted a meeting on Oct. 6 to gauge community sentiment. Parents got a week's notice and the meeting, which fell on the same night as an off-campus fundraiser, drew eight people.

"They promote bake sales more than they promoted this," said Natalia Vandeberg, mother of a Pride second-grader.

Now, Pride parents wonder whether the tower would have gone up if they had been afforded a community meeting like Coleman's last week.

"They need to explain to us why one principal can slip a tower in and another principal will advertise it on the marquee, give advance notice and hold a meeting to hear parent and community concerns," Meckley said.

Calling themselves Parents Against Cell Towers at Schools, they plan to meet at the New Tampa Regional Library at 11 a.m. Thursday. They also plan to give Johnson a letter and a petition they said 300 parents have signed opposing the tower.

Johnson did not return calls or e-mails from a St. Petersburg Times reporter. In the PTA newsletter, she directed parents with questions to Stacy Frank, who finds cell phone tower sites and negotiates leases favorable to Hillsborough schools.

Frank, president of Collier Enterprises II, said it was Johnson's decision to hold the Pride meeting after the tower went up. Frank said she did not ask Johnson to hold one earlier because it would have been "presumptuous of me to come in and tell a principal how to run their campus."

Moving forward, schools will hold meetings before principals render their decisions, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. But campuses that already have towers don't have much recourse, Frank said.

Schools can't dismantle towers until leases, which typically run 10 years, expire. The initial term of Pride's contract ends in 2017. Only after that — and if the tower is no longer used as a wireless facility — do local zoning regulations and the district's contract require the tower's removal.

Pride receives about $24,000 a year for leasing space to two carriers, Alltel and T-Mobile. The tower can accommodate up to five carriers and rent will rise at 4 percent annually.

Parents oppose cell tower at Pride Elementary 01/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 11:44pm]
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