Naperville Unit District 203 officials said they weren't out looking for cellphone providers who would pay to install towers at some of their schools, but the opportunity came to them when AT&T asked to build towers at Kennedy and Lincoln junior highs.
The district is beginning to investigate the potential health concerns, safety risks and financial benefits of allowing the company to build towers at the schools. Superintendent Dan Bridges said the discussion is preliminary and much community input will be sought, but administrators have a responsibility to look into cell tower leases as a potential alternative revenue source.
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"I anticipate that this will be just the beginning of a conversation about this topic," Bridges said Monday. "We're going to work on our timeline and our needs, not on the vendor's timeline or the vendor's needs."
The proposal under consideration calls for a 75-foot-tall cell tower in a flagpole at Kennedy Junior High and a 100-foot-tall tower near a Naperville water tower at Lincoln Junior High. The district could lease out the rights to the space on which the towers would be built for 25 years, bringing in roughly $2.2 million total if both towers were to be built and leased.
The move could allow the district to build tracks and turf fields at Kennedy and Lincoln, filling a need for more recreation space for extracurricular activities.
School board members Monday voiced mixed opinions about the potential value of leasing space for cell towers.
"This is going to give us the opportunity to get some badly needed athletic equipment at our junior highs," board member Mike Jaensch said.
"I would certainly advocate for moving forward."
After hearing from three residents opposed to cell towers on district property, board member Suzyn Price said allowing such a lease is "not our core interest, not our core values."
Residents questioned the safety of locating cell towers so close to children in schools and the potential risks of cancer and other health concerns from the radio-frequency signals the towers receive and transmit. A fact sheet board members were provided from the American Cancer Society said there is very little evidence to support the theory that going to school or living near a cell tower increases a person's risk of developing cancer.
"What I really want to stress is the risk of the unknown," said Ken Banas of Lisle, who will be the parent of a sixth-grader at Kennedy in the fall. "Most scientists agree cell towers are unlikely to cause cancer, but that's different from all scientists say it will not cause cancer."
Bridges said the discussion will continue at the board's July 21 meeting, in which administrators will give an update on the specific types of towers proposed for the schools, scientific research about health risks, other potential funding sources that could help build junior high tracks, and the pros and cons of allowing cell towers on district property.