A cellphone tower will be installed at Wheaton Warrenville South High School, despite concerns by some school board members about a lack of community engagement.
Although some Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 board members said they would prefer to delay a vote, in the end they unanimously approved installation of the 105-foot Verizon tower.
Officials said the tower -- which likely will go up before the beginning of next school year near the northwest end of the football field -- will generate about $30,000 for the district in the first year.
The contract is for five years, but officials say the pole could remain on the site for up to 25 years, with increases in revenue each year.
Board member Brad Paulsen said it ultimately could generate nearly $1.1 million for the district.
Officials said the district will own the pole and can rent it to other carriers as long as it doesn't interfere with Verizon's antenna. Verizon will be responsible for the installation.
Approval is needed by the city council and a permit must be filed with the Regional Office of Education before work can begin.
Three citizens made comments regarding the tower, including Wheaton Warrenville South Booster Club President Bob Barista, who said he thought it was "a great opportunity."
"Some of the best educational institutions in the country ... have all, in the last few years, made similar agreements, some not as lucrative," he said. "The board knows you have to get creative to acquire more and more revenue to take on bigger and better things."
However, Mary Ann Vitone of Wheaton said she was disappointed the board originally had the item listed on the consent agenda, a move she felt showed "a total lack of transparency."
Winfield resident Harold Lonks agreed, saying the issue should have at least been tabled until the next meeting so more information about it could be posted online for public review and input.
Vitone also shared information about a cell tower at San Diego University that some believe was the cause of several cases of cancer in staff members.
"If this district so desperately needs money, let's start by cutting out sick leave and vacation days," she said. "Have all employees start paying for their retirement and benefits."
Officials said data gathered by the American Cancer Society shows there is little evidence that cell towers increase any health risks.
The bigger issue for board member Rosemary Swanson, however, was protecting "the process."
"My dilemma is that we are really embarking at the beginning stages of this Engage200 process, where the whole idea is to ensure the community is appropriately involved in various issues," she said. "That certainly doesn't mean they have to weigh in on every single thing, on every single vote, but on something where there's sort of a cultural concern that can be anticipated, if there is an opportunity to allow some sort of venue to talk about that, I think it would be to our advantage to do that."
Swanson and board member Jim Gambaiani suggested they would like to get more feedback from the public and put more information out to stakeholders before voting, but other board members said they weren't as inclined to table the issue.
Superintendent Jeff Schuler said whenever the board did decide to vote, he hoped it would be a 7-0 decision.
"You have set, as a board, a goal for looking at alternative sources of revenue," he said. "Even if this passed tonight, but passed on a 4-3 vote, I think you're potentially sending a mixed message out to the community as to whether you really support the alternative revenue source."
Before the board voted, President Barb Intihar suggested the district's community engagement committee could take a deeper look into the issues Swanson raised.
"I hate to be the person that kind of slows things down," Swanson said. "Nonetheless, I think it's really important for us to establish that sense of trust in terms of this process."