Will a Large Communications Tower Be Built at EL High School?

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Courtesy photo TowerCo.

The proposed communications tower by TowerCo would be installed on a 50x50 plot of land out back of East Lansing High School.

A proposal to install a 130 foot tall communication tower on the East Lansing High School campus was discussed at Monday night’s East Lansing school board meeting.

The tower was described by presenter Jason Woodward as a public safety measure that would also support local wireless infrastructure. 

Woodward is Vice President of Business Development at TowerCo, a North Carolina-based company specializing in owning, building and managing wireless communication towers. TowerCo has partnered with AT&T to install communication towers throughout the country for what they call their FirstNet program. The program aims to help in emergencies by enabling communications among first responders.

“FirstNet basically prioritizes those first responders over the general public at any time,” he said. “So, when Michigan State Police buy phones, they get a SIM card that is applicable to FirstNet and prioritizes them over everybody else.”

Woodward explained that during times of disaster, such as the September 11th terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina, wireless infrastructure has sometimes collapsed in affected areas. This lack of communication led the federal government to team with AT&T to create a frequency band dubbed Block 14. First responders receive SIM cards in their phones and devices that use Block 14, prioritizing their usage over that of the general public.

“I live in Oakland County,” Woodward said, “so when the whole Oxford [high school shooting] situation happened, that was the first real test of FirstNet.” 

Four students were killed and seven injured on Nov. 30, 2021, when 15-year-old Ethan Crumbly opened fire in the school. Woodward acknowledges that, while the system did get overrun at points, it was helpful in the early stages of the incident to get first responders to the scene and information out to the community.

The ELPS project calls for a 125- to 135-foot monopole tower sitting on a leased 50-by-50 tract of land, possibly placed near the back of the high school campus proximate to an existing maintenance facility. In return, the school district would receive monthly payments or could opt to receive a 10-year prepaid rental sum to invest in capital improvement projects. Exact payments are negotiable based on the company’s need for tower development in that location.

Woodward said AT&T wants his company to move as fast as possible and that a typical lease would be 30 years.

The board responded to Woodward’s presentation with approximately 25 minutes of questions. 

Trustee Terah Chambers inquired about any known dangers associated with the towers.

“The American Cancer Society recognizes that cell towers are non-carcinogenic type frequencies,” Woodward said. “The frequencies that are being used by a lot of the 5G networks that are out there today were the same frequencies that TV stations used for UHF [ultra high frequency]. They’re just repurposed.”

Other questions focused on access to the physical tower and construction timeline. Woodward indicated construction would take 45 days and said he would like to see the tower completed by the end of summer 2023, if the district decides to move forward.

In a Tuesday morning interview with ELi, Woodward was hopeful ELPS would be receptive to a future partnership with TowerCo. Out of more than 100 presentations he’s given, only three entities decided to forgo the construction of a tower, he said.

School Board Vice President Chris Martin still had questions he expressed in a phone interview with ELi on Tuesday.

Dylan Lees for ELi

ELPS School Board Vice President Chris Martin, shown here at the Oct. 4, 2022, meeting, says more information is needed about the proposed communications tower at ELHS.

“As of right now, I don’t believe we have enough information to approve this project,” he said. “The financial terms seem kind of vague at this point. I’d like more information about whether this group has evaluated other sites. We have locations that don’t have schools on them and it sounds like there’s a chance this could cause a disruption while they’re building it. We don’t want to rush into this.”

Martin also pointed out that while another revenue stream would be a positive, the district is in a very good financial situation.

Monday’s two hour meeting also included the approval of one-time bonuses for district employees. Those who work 20 hours or more per week will receive $1,500 and those working fewer hours will receive smaller bonuses. 

This is the second such bonus the district has offered in recent years, the first occurring in 2019.

Video of Tuesday’s meeting is available here. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 14 in the lower level of East Lansing High School. Agendas can be found at this site.

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