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Tampa middle school says no to cell phone tower

TAMPA — Plans to erect a 100-foot cell phone tower at Coleman Middle were nixed Friday, less than 48 hours after tempers flared at a heated community meeting that featured more than 300 parents, area residents, hecklers and police guards.

About 10:15 a.m. Friday, principal Michael Hoskinson called Stacy Frank, the woman whose job it is to find cell phone tower sites and negotiate leases favorable to Hillsborough schools. He thanked her, then issued his verdict.

That call culminated months of divisiveness in South Tampa's Culbreath Heights community and relieved parents who believed the school was no place for a tower.

"I feel like the elephant has been lifted off of me," said Ari FitzGerald, a vocal opponent of the tower. "It's nice to know that we were heard."

In the end, it wasn't the parents' passionate arguments or the scientific community's contradictory studies that swayed Hoskinson as much as his students.

Speaking to reporters outside the S Manhattan Avenue campus Friday afternoon, he said the contentious issue had become a distraction not just at Coleman, but the surrounding community.

"I didn't want students to say, 'How was your year at Coleman? Well, we talked about cell towers,' " Hoskinson said.

In a letter sent home with students, he said that he's still not convinced the tower would have posed a health risk to children, as many parents feared. He said he's sure one will be constructed in the area in the near future and that Coleman would have benefited from the extra revenue.

On average, schools make more than $11,000 annually per carrier.

Towers can accommodate up to five carriers, and rent rises 3 to 4 percent annually.

Coleman would have raked in $36,000 a year and a total of $432,000 over the course of a 10-year lease.

Now that those plans have been scrapped, Hoskinson said he hopes parents make good on promises to raise money for Hillsborough schools, which face the prospect of $26-million in budget cuts.

"A lot of the community has already come forth in offering financial help, which is a nice thing," he said.

Tower opponent John Oakley e-mailed plans for a golf tournament that he projects will raise $10,000 for Coleman.

"We were hoping to get people together and maybe reunite this community with something fun and profitable for the school," said his wife, Suzanne Oakley.

Hoskinson is still waiting on a call from Mark Williams, the Tampa attorney and Mabry Elementary dad who guaranteed at a community meeting Wednesday night that he could raise $100,000 in three months if Coleman was that pressed for cash.

"I thought I said a million," Williams said in a telephone interview after Hoskinson's press conference.

"We're going to organize and do everything to make sure both schools have sufficient funds going forward."

Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5303.

Tampa middle school says no to cell phone tower 01/09/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 10:54pm]
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