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Rising cell tower at Pasco's John Long Middle School draws handful of protesters

WESLEY CHAPEL — Susan Cali waved her fluorescent yellow "Stop the Tower!" sign early Monday as cars streamed into John Long Middle School for drop-off time.

"I care about microwave radiation," Cali said, explaining her opposition to a cell phone tower that's rising on the back of the school property. "The federal government uses it as a weapon. I would say it's hazardous."

Just four protesters came to rally against the tower, which the Pasco County School Board approved in February 2008. Construction began recently, with work projected to be done in mid November.

The district stands to receive as much as $70,000 annually in rent from the tower, with the amount going into the general budget.

Mark Laidley, another protesting parent, said he had hoped for a better turnout. He figured the lackluster response, plus the quizzical looks he got from drivers as they passed, illustrated how little the Meadow Pointe community really knew about the school district's plans to erect a cell phone tower.

"They'll send you home things like tacos on Tuesday or when they want your money," Laidley said. "But when it's something important like this, they'll let it fly right by."

School officials have not hidden the information, however.

The School Board acted on the tower at a Feb. 5, 2008, public meeting. Long Middle principal Beth Brown has kept the PTSA and school advisory council in the loop, and also spoke with the Times nine months ago about the need to improve phone coverage in the area.

"It never occurred to me that there was anything negative" about the tower, she said at the time.

PTSA president Stacy Krous, who watched the small protest from the school parking lot, said the parent group had dealt with concerns about the tower some time ago. She expected the next meeting, later this week, could become contentious.

The tower has drawn attention from Parents Against Cell Towers, a Hillsborough organization that has fought cell phone towers at several schools.

"We're trying to support each other," said Carrie Grimail of South Tampa, who attended Monday's rally. "We feel like they're picking us off one at a time."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Rising cell tower at Pasco's John Long Middle School draws handful of protesters 11/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 2, 2009 1:06pm]
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