116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Johnson School of the Arts will not become home to a Verizon Wireless cell phone tower any time soon. The Cedar Rapids Community School District's School Board removed the company's proposed contract with the school from consideration during a Nov. 11 regular meeting. But what that decision, in part the result of public pushback, means for the district's three existing cell phone towers is still uncertain.
“We'll not rule anything out for the future other than we're not going to pursue the use of Johnson for this purpose,” said Superintendent Dave Benson, who recommended that the board drop the potential deal.
Community members raised concerns about possible health risks associated with radiation emissions from cell phone towers, but the district presented a safety study conducted by an unnamed independent agency showing that the structure would pose “no safety hazard” during an information session on Nov. 5.
"The meeting was very respectful with questions and concerns received," Executive Director of Business Services Steve Graham, who attended the gathering and counted 13 community members in the audience, wrote in an email to The Gazette. "I did ask if anyone present was in favor of the proposal and none responded positively."
The American Cancer Society website states “most scientists agree that cell phone antennas or towers are unlikely to cause cancer.”
TowerCo, i wireless and US Cellular have all leased district facilities for cell phone towers at Kingston Stadium, Wilson and Roosevelt middle schools, respectively, for potential durations of 20 years. The TowerCo contract, which was initially with i wireless but transferred to TowerCo on Jan. 3, went into effect in April 2007 for a five-year term with three renewal periods at five-year intervals. The board did not intervene, thus renewing the agreement until April 1, 2017.
The i wireless agreement for the Wilson tower started in January 2008 and is structured similarly to the TowerCo agreement for the Kingston Stadium tower. By not opting out, the school board has continued the contract until Jan. 1, 2018.
The US Cellular agreement began in May 2010 with an initial term of 5 years and will automatically continue each five years through May 2030.
Benson said he's not sure what recommendations he will take to the board when those renewal discussions approach.
“We'll have to see at that time,” he said.
In addition, Benson said that there are no plans for administrators to reject or ban future leases should other companies approach the district about leasing space for cell phone towers.
As previously reported by KCRG-TV9's Jill Kasparie, the agreements net about $75,000 annually for the district's general fund. If school board terminates its contract with US Cellular there would be “no penalty or further liability” unless the district violates some other part of the agreement, but the TowerCo and i wireless contracts have strings.
The district would have reimburse i wireless for half of all rent – which began as $1,500 monthly and increases annually by either 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index-Urban rate, whichever is higher – the company paid during the renewal period if the board voted against extending the agreement beyond Jan. 1, 2018. The Kingston Stadium tower agreement includes an initial monthly rent of $750, which also climbs each year by either 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index-Urban rate, whichever is higher, and the district would also be responsible for paying back half should the school board opt out of continuing the pact past April 1, 2017.
Board Member Ann Rosenthal said she was glad that her colleagues agreed to halt the suggested Johnson cell tower installation but didn't say whether she'd vote for or against future renewals or proposals.