State legislators have been seeking ways to prevent the location of more cell towers on DeKalb Schools property after a July 12, 2011, vote by the DeKalb School Board to allow T-Mobile to locate 150-foot-high towers on nine school properties for up to 30 years. Seven of the schools are in South DeKalb.
Over the life of the lease, T-Mobile will pay the school district just over $2.3 million in rent. Construction of the first cell tower is expected to begin in August.
The measure passed in a 7-2 vote, with District 7 board member Donna Edler and District 1 board member Nancy Jester voting against it.
Twelve schools were originally on the list, but three were removed after parents and the community around them raised concerns about health risks,
Board members said they didn’t hear about other communities in opposition until after the vote was taken. Opponents in other areas said they didn’t find out about the cell tower proposal until after the School Board vote.
Here’s how School Board members say they’ll vote on the cell tower ballot question:
Nancy Jester (District 1): Voting no. “I feel it’s a good neighbor issue. I wouldn’t want someone to vote to put a tower next to my house so I’m not going to vote to put a tower next to somebody else’s house. It’s also a distraction, and it has nothing to do with educating children.”
Donald E. McChesney (District 2): Voting no. “I wouldn’t support putting the cell towers on school property, not when the community says they don’t want them.”
Sarah Copelin-Wood (District 3): Voting no. “There are pros and cons about it. Some say it won’t cause lasting effects. Why take the risks when we don’t know quite yet whether there are health effects.”
H. Paul Womack Jr. (District 4): Undecided. “You get more radiation from your handheld cell phone and microwave and walk-around phone at home than from cell towers.”
Jesse “Jay” Cunningham Jr. (District 5): Voting yes. “We have schools that don’t have wireless and it’s going to give us a chance to put wireless in the schools and move them into the 21st century.”
Thomas E. Bowen, vice chair (District 6): Voting yes. “I am supportive of cell towers and each time, we should take it back to the community to say yes or no.”
Donna Edler (District 7): Voting no. “We are not in the cell phone business.”
Dr. Pamela A. Speaks (District 8): Voting no. She also said she would probably vote “no” if she could redo her School Board vote that approved the placement of towers at 12 schools.
“I probably wouldn’t vote for it because it’s not an educational issue. The school system has enough educational issues. We would have been better off not tackling this at all.”
Dr. Eugene P. Walker, chair (District 9): Voting yes. “I would strongly vote for it [as a board member] today because I think that’s a way to help get kids into the 21st century. Cell towers are the vehicles we use to help us better communicate. I clearly don’t believe, according to the appropriate national authorities, that there’s a serious health risk. I think we need these cell towers. I would hope the schools would benefit from them and get discounts on Internet and all these types of communication we’re moving toward.”
— Compiled by Donna Williams Lewis and Jennifer Ffrench Parker.