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The Dripby Fern Shen5:59 pmJul 26, 20120

Cell towers atop Baltimore public schools questioned

Above: The chimney at Friendship Academy at Cherry Hill doubles as a cell phone tower – and city schools are considering a lease to put more equipment up there.

In there on the agenda Tuesday night along with contracts to buy sports uniforms and bread products was an item that caught citizen activist Kim Trueheart’s eye – the Baltimore City School Board was considering lease agreements to put cell phone towers on three city schools.

“These are schools in some of the city’s poorest communities – Cherry Hill and Walbrook,” Trueheart said. “Were any considerations given to the health effects of these towers on the students? Would contracts like these even be considered in affluent communities like Roland Park?”

Board members apparently had questions too – they tabled the proposed lease agreements until the next meeting. The agreements are between city schools and Cricket Communications, Inc. to put “wireless communication equipment” at Cherry Hill Elementary School and two schools in the Walbrook neighborhood, Baltimore Civitas and Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy West.

“I came right home and filed an FOI [Freedom of Information request],” Trueheart said.

Turns out Baltimore has been leasing out rooftop space at city schools for years, spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said, when asked by The Brew.

She confirmed that there are currently 21 lease agreements for wireless equipment to be placed at 14 city school locations. Here is the list of schools.

The equipment brings in revenue for the school system – annual payments for 2012 are estimated between $540,000 and $580,000, House-Foster said. For the month of July total revenue checks came in at $66,027.47.

BCPS: Health Concerns “Not an Issue”

Asked whether consideration was given to the possible effects on schoolchildren of the radio frequency radiation emitted from cell sites, House-Foster said city schools do not consider it a problem.

“Health concerns should no longer be an issue,” she said in an email, citing the National Telecommunications Act of 1996. “They can be placed almost anywhere through Conditional Use Zoning.”

The Act has a provision that says “health concerns can no longer be used as a reason not to have a cell placement,” House-Foster said.

But despite general scientific agreement that the health risks are low, controversy over the placement of these rooftop revenue generators – especially at schools – has persisted for the past decade.

Vehement objections from parents at Longfellow Middle School in Falls Church, Va. killed a cell tower proposal there. Amid parents’ concerns over safety and health, the Baltimore County Board of Appeals in 2007 overturned a commissioner’s ruling to permit a cell phone tower near Randallstown High School tennis courts.

In 2010, the Town of Hempstead Long Island passed an ordinance that prohibits wireless companies from installing equipment closer than 1,500 feet to homes, day care centers, schools and houses of worship.

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