Tempers flared at Medlock Elementary on May 12, during one of the last community meetings held for residents to discuss T-Mobile’s proposal to install 12 cell towers at some DeKalb schools.
T-Mobile representatives were barraged with questions and comments ranging from health concerns to the amount of money the system would make if the towers were installed.
Medlock Elementary is one of the proposed sites and some in the community felt the timing was wrong and complained that they were still reeling from having the school closed under Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson’s redistricting plan.
“My son is in fifth grade so he won’t be going to school here anymore but I want at least the option that another school will open here. You have to understand that the reason why we’re so emotional about it is because we were fighting to keep Medlock open,” Barbara Melton said.
Melton said that the cell tower might prevent other uses for the building and said that the idea the school board was already negotiating with T-Mobile a year ago while they were working on redistricting was, to her, “abhorrent.”
“The board has blatantly disregarded our wishes and the wishes of so many in our community. If the board has disregarded our wishes before in this manner, what’s to say that they won’t go against our wishes again?” Melton said.
Ed Trego, a representative from T-Mobile, said he understood the community’s frustration and pointed out that no deal was yet made. He said that the purpose of the meeting was to inform residents of what the company was trying to do.
“This is not an all or nothing proposal. If this group of individuals feels that this is inappropriate for this location, that’s the purpose of this meeting; call your board of education representatives and pass that along to them,” Trego said. “We need coverage in this area; it is a financial benefit to the school and to the school board so it was a proposal.”
Some residents like Amanda Sabetai, were worried about the long-term health risks of cell phone towers, especially to children in the area. Sabetai said that she and her husband are planning on having kids and the elementary school was one of the selling points when they bought their house a year and a half ago.
“We were really disappointed that they closed the school but it’s really scary that they might put a cell phone tower here. It’s less than half a mile from my house,” Sabetai said. “The way that I look at it is, if I were on the school board, I would want to be absolutely certain it’s safe and I don’t think they can be.”
Sabetai said that if a tower is installed she will most likely move.
Jennifer Moore, who lives down the road from the school, said that she did not begrudge T-Mobile for doing what it was doing but members of her community lacked trust in the school board.
“There seems to be the talking points and the face time that they give to constituents in order to get the vote. Behind the scenes–and we all know this happens–they do basically what they want,” Moore said.
Board member Donald McChesney, who represents District 2, said at the meeting that he was going to tell his fellow board members that the community around Medlock was completely opposed to any tower going up in the area.
“They can e-mail their board members because they look at what people tell them. I look at my e-mails every day to see what’s there so that will do it,” McChesney said. He also urged residents to attend and comment publicly at the next board meeting so the entire board could hear them.
School spokesman Walter Woods said that if the board approved the plan, the revenue from the towers would be split by the board with the Parent Teachers Associations of the schools where they were located.
“The contract over time could generate from some $300,000 to $1 million per site. I’ve seen the range and it’s over a 15-year horizon so it’s hard to get a view of what exactly we’re talking about,” Woods said.
Woods said that several board members had presented the idea for the towers as an alternative source of revenue because they had seen other counties in the metro Atlanta area pursuing similar contracts.
The potential sites are Margaret Harris Center, Briarlake, Brockett, Flat Rock, Jolly, Princeton, Smoke Rise, Narvie J. Harris, Meadowview and Medlock elementary schools, and Lakeside and Martin Luther King, Jr. high schools.
Woods said that in some cases the PTA could receive approximately $25,000, and the board could approve it as early as this summer.