Verizon Wireless has proposed a new use for Lord Baltimore Elementary School’s chimney: an antenna platform.
Indian River School District invited Verizon representatives to share their vision for a telecommunications facility by attaching six new antennas and reinforcements to the now-defunct 55-foot smoke stack.
At the Oct. 14 Buildings and Grounds meeting, Verizon consultant Sue Manchel of Wireless Access Technologies explained the preliminary wireless communication design.
Verizon would attach 12 total antennas, six each at a height of 42 and 52 feet. They would stick off approximately one foot from the chimney. Verizon would probably replace the mortar and make other structural improvements to bring the chimney up to code.
This wouldn’t be the first meeting of education and telecommunications. Other school districts have antennas, but IRSD chief financial officer, Patrick Miller, said he is not aware of other IRSD leases. Electrical engineer and independent evaluator Andrew Petersohn has worked on two New Jersey schools recently, plus “countless” other “sensitive installations” at schools and hospitals.
When broadcasting a signal, “antennas act a lot like a flashlight. They focus the electro-magnetic energy... away from the building,” Petersohn said. The majority of energy would focus toward the horizon and slightly downward, hitting the ground about one mile away from a 42-foot tower.
“There’s very little energy that ever will make it to the building,” Petersohn said. “As a parent, my concern would be the rooftop. In my experience the only way to put yourself in a position to exceed FCC exposure limits is” to climb the smokestack and stand five feet in front of the antennas.
“The maximum exposure to radio-frequency emissions... will be far below FCC exposure limits at ground level surrounding the building and in all occupied or accessed locations inside the buildings,” Petersohn wrote in an Oct. 11 email. “The cumulative radio-frequency exposure levels would be at least 70 times less than the FCC limits.”
“And you can present documentation of this?” asked school board member Donald Hattier later at the Oct. 28 board meeting. “I would like to see this. I have grave concerns about this.”
“We’re concerned about the safety of our kids, it’s very important to us,” said board member Rodney Layfield.
Back at the Buildings and Grounds meeting, Petersohn said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) limits are already quite strict, safe and “aligned with the civilized world,” although some countries are even more stringent.
Also, these are not ionizing rays, like an X-ray, said Petersohn. Cell phones are likely to have a stronger Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) because people place them next to their heads to catch a signal miles away.
Besides the support structure and antennas, the facility would be located behind the school. Verizon would add an equipment platform above the existing mechanical room to store radio equipment and a propane generator on the ground for power outages.
In a June email, Manchel wrote that Verizon needs to install telephone and electric utilities, but no water or sewer. They also require 24-hour access to the site for maintenance and repair, typically with three or four monthly inspections.
Manchel’s email said a lease agreement would be an initial 5-year term with 4 additional 5-year terms for total of 25 years. Rental compensation was proposed at $21,000 per year (or $1,750 monthly) with 15 percent escalations every 5 years.
However, Miller told the Coastal Point that some school districts receive up to $5,000 monthly.
If IR approves it, Verizon would still be responsible for obtaining all permits to construct, maintain and operate, which includes approaching Ocean View Planning and Zoning.
Construction would be after school or on weekends.
Built to International Building Code, the cell structures are meant to withstand 120 mile-per-hour winds, and Manchel said Verizon would provide structural analysis to the district.
Indian River School District will further review the proposal at the next Buildings and Grounds committee meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 6 p.m.