The Canal Winchester Times

Company eyes school property as cell tower site


SBA Communications wants to lease land near Asbury Elementary School in the Blacklick Estates neighborhood for construction of a new communications tower so it can provide additional Verizon cell phone service.

Company spokesman Brian Ramirez told the Groveport Madison Board of Education July 9 that the location is important because zoning requires the 150-foot tower to have a setback of 150 feet on all sides from any occupied structure, such as houses or the school.

"This is about the only location we can go in," he said. "This area is surrounded by heavy residential and at this time we'll be providing additional Verizon service. Everyone has a cell phone now, and they want better service in their homes; this will help with that."

The tower, as currently proposed, would be a monopole design, which is a single 145-foot pole with an additional 5-foot tall lightening rod at the top, and no guy-wires or other external support features necessary.

"Most of the time when we do a light-pole type structure like this, they include lights for ball diamonds and football fields -- this is like that without the lights," Ramirez said. "I'm currently working on another one up north; it's a common thing we do. If there are any aesthetic things we can do, we'll do that as well."

If the school board agrees to negotiate a lease with SBA Communications, the next step would be to approach Madison Township for zoning approval. That would require a public hearing before the project could get the final OK.

District Treasurer Tony Swartz said the board would have to give its approval to move forward with lease negotiations. He said he hoped to ask for the school board's approval to negotiate with SBA Communications at its next regular board meeting scheduled for July 23, after ThisWeek's press time.

According to Ramirez, although a lease rate has not yet been negotiated, his company normally signs lease agreements for a minimum of 30 years, with monthly payments and an annual lease increase.

School board President Bryan Shoemaker said he had concerns about the placement of the pole because of the district's desire to eventually replace the rest of its facilities, including Asbury Elementary, with new buildings.

"Our plan right now is, if we wanted to build a new school, we'd build it behind the current one, and so we need to make sure that a new building wouldn't sit within that 150 feet," Shoemaker said. "You said 30 years, and at some point, we'll need to build a new building there."

Ramirez said the company has some flexibility as to where the tower would be placed on the Asbury Elementary property, and would be willing to work with the district to determine the best spot in regard to future building projects.

Board member Nancy Gillespie was concerned about what benefits, beyond the financial aspect of the lease deal, might be provided by construction of the tower.

"Antennas are placed on the pole itself with room for each provider and it will be available for public uses, like for public safety, police and fire departments," Ramirez said.