2015-07-16 / Front Page

Cell Tower Creating a Buzz

By Barry Bridges

A recently-constructed equipment shed at the base of the Rogers High School cell tower has added to the consternation of neighbors. (Photo by Jack Kelly) A recently-constructed equipment shed at the base of the Rogers High School cell tower has added to the consternation of neighbors. (Photo by Jack Kelly) At the height of summer’s foliage, the cell tower on the grounds of Rogers High School may go largely unnoticed by motorists passing through on Old Fort Road or Ruggles Avenue. But to some residents of the neighborhood, construction on the property has been hard to miss.

Electrical work currently under way at the tower has prompted complaints about noise and visual clutter and has also opened the door to a larger debate about why the structure is on school property. Although the tower has been in place for many years, some adjacent homeowners are asking why they weren’t notified about work recently undertaken at the site before it began, including the addition of an 11’ x 26’ building at the base.

“We wonder why the new shelter had to be erected so close to homes and also question the add- on structures that have been going up,” said Stephen Turcotte, a nearby resident. “In addition to the constant noise from the equipment, the add-ons create volume on the tower and illuminate the area with reflected light in mornings and evenings.”

Turcotte also wondered why there were no “checks and balances” in the form of city approvals or some types of notice going out to abutters as they typically would in zoning matters. “No one was made aware of anything. Other Newporters should be concerned about this, because if this has gone unchecked here, it could happen elsewhere.”

In correspondence to Newport Schools Superintendent Colleen Jermain, Turcotte wrote, “The tower has a direct and growing negative impact on this neighborhood, diminishing the beauty of the area, devaluing our properties, [creating] possible major health concerns and industrial noise pollution, and continuously diminishing the quality of life.” And, apparently referencing the fact that the city is not bound by its own zoning laws, he said that “avoiding zoning [requirements] is not having sensitivity and understanding for those of us who live in Newport.”

In a conversation with Newport This Week, Jermain said that the tower dates to the 1980s and started as a windmill for Rogers students to use in science experiments. But the classroom project was eventually abandoned and the structure naturally lent itself as a host for cell phone antennas. “That was quite a while ago, and the district now leases the space to Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T as a way to generate additional revenues,” said Jermain. “Considering its original purpose, it was placed at one of the highest points on campus.”

The School Committee allows the antennas on the tower through contracts with the three telecommunications companies, and the arrangement brings in around $90,000 annually.

As for the buzz of activity at the site over the last few months, the city building official’s office reported that two permits have been issued within the past year. A building permit was issued in September for the new equipment shelter, which was needed to replace a smaller building from 2012 that was not holding up well against the elements. The permit also described a plan for the installation of 12 antennas and six radio heads. A separate electrical permit was issued in December to provide 200 amp service to the shelter through underground conduits. Permits are typically valid for one year.

Jermain is trying to be responsive to everyone’s interests. “At this point we need to get a clear understanding of what the concerns are so that we can best address them,” she said. Much of the noise has come from equipment testing, and mechanisms are being put in place to help lessen it, she added.

While Jermain could not speak to zoning requirements, she has been assured by contractors that all appropriate permits have been pulled, and that no further expansion of the utility closet is planned.

School Committee member Robert Leary has requested that the matter be placed on the agenda for the committee’s August meeting, and neighbors plan to voice their continuing opposition to the recent developments at that time.

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