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Publish Date: 9/24/2005

Cell phone antenna leases a boon to St. Vrain school district

LONGMONT — Cellular companies rushing to fill gaps in their coverage areas have become an unexpected boon to the St. Vrain Valley School District.

Going into the 2005-06 school year, the district was bringing in nearly $116,000 a year by allowing cellular companies to lease space for antennas on a handful of secondary schools and district office buildings.

Rex Hartman, the district’s director of operations and maintenance, said three additional telecommunications companies have options to build antennas on six district buildings, which would net the district an additional $43,788 a year in lease payments.

And new contracts are in the works.

“We’re getting a lot of interest right now from four carriers we’re working with ... who expressed interest in trying to locate antennas on some of our buildings,” Hartman said.

Two companies are looking to place antennas at Erie Middle School, and two others want to locate equipment on the roof of Skyline High School.

Those four potential placements would bring in nearly $69,000 a year in leases.

Because of the renewed interest in placing cell phone antennas on school buildings, the district has upped the fee it charges for the privilege.

Some of the district’s older leases, dating back to 1996, were for as little as $365 a month. The newest lease price is $1,437 a month.

Brad Schol, the city of Longmont’s planning director, said local regulations dictate where companies can build towers or place antennas.

“The encouragement is to locate them on existing structures when possible,” he said. “That’s why you don’t see a lot of towers around town. In a lot of locations, the antennas are worked into the architecture of the building.”

And while the city hasn’t seen a proliferation of cellular companies clamoring to get into Longmont, “There’s been a steady stream of companies that find that some of their coverage isn’t very good and are looking to have another installation,” Schol said. “We’re doing a couple a year.”

The medical building at Longmont United Hospital and the FirstBank building at 17th Avenue and Main Street have numerous cell antennas because they are so tall.

City regulations restrict cell phone towers to commercial or industrial areas.

“They are not permitted in certain residential zones because there may or may not be a health risk associated with them,” Schol said. “The city is taking a course of prudent avoidance. Common sense says that if there is any kind of hazard, you take that into consideration and make sure it is located in areas where there is not long-term exposure.”

Antennas are typically painted to match poles and buildings or are set back from roof lines so people can’t see them from the street.

It’s an “aesthetic issue,” Schol said.

Skyline High School is “a good candidate for antennas because the building sits on a hill (and) it is two stories tall,” Hartman said. “And it has had a number of carriers looking at that and evaluating it.”

He said district officials are not concerned about potential health issues from antennas on higher towers but have decided to keep them off elementary schools, which are typically lower in height.

Currently, the school has antennas for Cricket and Mesa Networks. T-Mobile/Voicestream and Nextel are also looking at the school as a potential antenna site.

The district’s Career Development Center, 1200 S. Sunset St., has a large tower out back that the district originally built for its transportation communication system, said Schol.

That tower has been an ideal site for telecommunications companies. The CDC tower has Sprint, Nextel and Verizon antennas attached to it.

Other schools with antennas on them are Erie Middle School, Silver Creek Middle/Senior High School and Twin Peaks Charter Academy.

Carriers also are looking at Coal Ridge Middle School in Firestone, Lyons Elementary School, Lyons Middle/Senior High School and the district’s Clover Basin building.

Another opportunity is placing cell phone antennas on stadium lights, Hartman said.

“We’ve made over a half a million dollars so far since we started (in 1996),” Hartman said.

The money the district makes from the leases goes directly into the general fund.

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-684-5211 or pavengladych@times-call.com.

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