School Weighs $15,000 Tower Revenue Versus Angry Parents

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Construction on a cell tower project underway by Verizon Wireless Communications, LLC on Gunnison High School (GHS) property has raised concerns by parents and residents about health-related hazards, real estate depreciation and lack of public process.

The Crested Butte News reported that a contract between Verizon and the school district allows for the replacement of a 60-foot light tower with a 20-foot antenna. According to school district superintendent Leslie Nichols, discussions on the matter began in 2017, and an agreement specified Verizon would lease each tower from Gunnison Watershed School District (GWSD) for $15,000 per year for five years, with an automatic renewal of five years. There was no formal vote taken by the school board.  

Nichols also noted that the school district is exempt from local zoning and permitting processes. Additionally, the News reported that the Crested Butte cell tower project, which began in 2018, is designed to be on the roof, and to match an existing decorative bell tower feature on an adjacent wing of the building.

“The district does find benefits in these towers,” said Nichols, such as strengthening weak to non-existent cell service in surrounding areas, and providing communications redundancy for the district’s emergency operations plan.”

A concerned parent, Mark Kintz, said, “You had a lot of information about the electromagnetic fields … but everything says there isn’t enough data. These haven’t been around long enough. There haven’t been studies of animals … I just don’t want our children to be guinea pigs.“

Concerns over the lack of process mounted. Citizen Jonathan Houck said, “To lock those out in the community who fund the school district—it’s pretty disenfranchising. Our city has a master plan in place, and we did not have the opportunity to say please don’t put it here.”

According to Nichols, discussions did take place at public meetings, yet “zoning and permitting questions do exist. The process did include a lot of work from Verizon to determine if these locations would be beneficial for service.”  

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January 11, 2019

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