Cell phone service provider T-Mobile is asking permission to build a cell tower on a corner of Smoke Rise Elementary property. The company would pay a lease that's not yet been negotiated, and parents are seeking a fat deal for their school.
"Until we see financials, there's not a lot we can comment on," said Smoke Rise father Rory Ffrench, except that "those funds should stay here."
He was one of two dozen or so parents who came to a May 10 open house at the school to hear T-Mobile's pitch.
The company wants a 150-foot tall tower, shaped like a pine tree, at Hugh Howell Road and Silver Hill Road to cover a bit of dead zone. It's common for carriers to try to skirt hostile property owners in residential areas by building towers at neighborhood schools. Fulton hosts several. The company is seeking permission to build on 12 school sites throughout DeKalb.
T-Mobile's site plan is preliminary, said Atlanta Senior Development Manager Shawn Blassingill. For the lease amount, he added "we don't talk money, we leave that to the board."
The school board negotiates with the company and must approve any lease. It can write several kinds of provisions.
For example, at a Cobb County school this year, T-Mobile offered $30,000 per year for a tower. The cash would have been split 60-40 between the county school board and the individual school. After hearings and delay, the Cobb board voted to put off the issue indefinitely. Last year in Roswell, the company offered a one-time $30,000 payment to one elementary school, plus regular payment to the county. Parental opposition shut down the deal.
Some Smoke Rise parents suggested maximizing a payout rather than cutting off a source of funds. "It's inevitable that the board will succumb to money," commented father Kriss Nash, after the T-Mobile presentation. "If we're going to accept the risk," he added, "we don't need this money to go into a [county] pot. We need it to go here."
One parent wondered if the tower could stand up to strong wind. A few more want to be sure that the tower would come down if it becomes obsolete.
Blassingill said "if we don't need it, it is taken down." He added that typical T-Mobile leases last 30 years and that the technology is "far from" being able to bypass towers.
If the DeKalb school board votes to approve the cell towers, Blassingill explained that his company must still get zoning and building approval. That would take up to two months, he predicted, and constructing the tower would take another five weeks.
Telecoms giant AT&T is seeking to buy T-Mobile USA, at a price of $39 billion. The two companies will start testifying to federal government antitrust authorities this week, asking for clearance.