2018-03-01 / Around Town

Cell Vendors Violate 120-Day Vacate Limit

School Committee Reminds Cell Vendors to Vacate Premises
By Brooke Constance White

The Newport School Committee has taken another step to remind three cell phone tower vendors of the need to remove their equipment and vacate the premises as soon as possible.

During its Feb. 22 meeting, the committee voted to have the district’s legal counsel, Neil Galvin, send a letter telling AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile to restore the tower to its condition prior to their leases, which expired in 2017 and were not reinstated.

The school committee sent the letter on Feb. 23, according to Galvin, one of a number of letters written to the vendors about vacating the tower located on the Rogers High School campus. The committee also sent out letters when the leases were not renewed, when leases were nearing their expiration, and 120 days after the leases had expired.

Committee Member David Carlin said sending another letter is long overdue as the contracts ended months ago.

“It’s time we took the necessary steps to alert the three cell phone providers that they need to leave,” he said. “We’ve gone through this for almost three years and I believe the 120 days past the contract end that each vendor had to remove their equipment is long past.”

In December 2015, the school committee voted not to renew the contracts after receiving numerous complaints from neighbors. Verizon’s contract expired in June 2017, AT&T’s contract expired in October 2017 and T-Mobile’s contract expired in late December 2017.

Galvin said the written notification will again inform the three companies of the need to vacate the tower. In addition, the letter directs the vendors to remove all above-ground infrastructure and equipment, and stipulates that the school district will continue to process lease payments without reinstating the contract. The district receives approximately $90,000 in total annual lease fees from the vendors in exchange for use of the tower.

In the letter, Galvin told the companies that the district processing payments “will not create any new tenancy and will not impair any and all rights of the Lessor to take further steps in connection with your vacating the premises.”

During the committee meeting, Galvin said that by sending this letter, the committee is making sure it is not doing anything that could negatively impact the school committee’s rights.

"We are preserving the status quo,” he said. “We’re also seeking information on what they intend to do.”

Representatives from the three companies have argued that if they remove the equipment and a new tower is not built, cell coverage would not be available around Ocean Avenue, Carroll Avenue and Ruggles Road.

During a city council workshop last November, representatives proposed building a 140-foot tower, approximately 900 feet from the existing tower, to avoid area interruptions in cell service. According to school committee members, the Newport City Council will assume responsibility for further action.

In Other Matters:

. The school committee approved a proposal from Carlos Colley, the district’s business manager, to solicit the services of CompuClaim, a company that does Medicaid billing in order to increase the reimbursement rate the district gets from the federal government for students and families who receive special-needs services. CompuClaim will work to ensure that everything that can be reimbursed is being billed, according to Colley.

. The committee appointed more than 20 residents, school committee members and school department officials to the facilities subcommittee, which will begin looking into the possibilities of replacing Rogers and providing more space at Pell Elementary School.

. Rogers Principal Jared Vance told committee members that the junior class had the highest attendance rate, an average of 82 percent, during the past semester. As a reward, the students are allowed to duct tape Dean of Students John Heino to a wall at the high school. Aside from the friendly competitions to encourage more students to attend school, Vance also said the staff is emphasizing to students and families the importance of consistent attendance.

. In an effort to provide personal connections and mentoring to students, high school staff are holding weekly advisory meetings for small groups of students. Research shows that kids want to come to school when they feel connected and know that someone cares about them, Vance told the committee. He hopes these advisory meetings will help with attendance and added that he expects they will help students understand the college application process and career options.

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