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Cell Tower Battled
[January 21, 2009]

Cell Tower Battled

(Tampa Tribune (FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 21--NEW TAMPA -- Buoyed by a decision at Coleman Elementary School not to install a cell tower on campus, parents at Pride Elementary in New Tampa are mobilizing to get one removed.

More than 20 parents from Pride and Hunter's Green elementaries and Benito and Coleman Middle schools gathered last week at the New Tampa Regional Library for the first meeting of People Against Cell Towers at Schools.

The new group hopes to attract parents across Hillsborough County who are opposed to the approval of cell towers on school campuses, said David Meckley, who has a son at Pride.

Meckley's wife, Mary, said the Jan. 15 meeting was planned for core organizers but ended up being an informational meeting because of community interest.

The Meckleys and other parents opposed to the cell tower at Pride are hopeful their voices will be heard after school officials at Coleman Middle in South Tampa early this month nixed plans for a cell tower there.

Coleman parents who attended the Jan. 15 meeting offered to help parents hoping to prevent other schools from allowing cell towers.

Parents opposed to the tower at Pride want the structure, which was erected in August, to be dismantled. They are petitioning Principal Jamie Johnson to hold another school meeting to give parents an opportunity to express their opinions. A meeting in October drew eight people.

The Meckleys said they are worried the tower will expose schoolchildren to health risks caused by exposure to potentially dangerous levels of radiation.

School district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said school officials haven't seen any evidence to suggest cell towers are harmful to students. It is also unlikely the tower at Pride will come down because the school is obligated to complete the terms of a 10-year contract, she added.

Pride receives $24,000 a year for leasing space on the 160-foot tower to two carriers -- Alltel and T-Mobile.

David Meckley said the principal hasn't said how the money would be spent nor are parents been made aware of any new school programs or activities.

The tower, which sits behind the school at 10310 Lion's Den Drive, resembles and was built to also serve as a flag pole.

Pride parents opposed to the tower said it was placed on campus without the knowledge of most parents. Only the members of the Parent-Teacher Association's executive board and the school's advisory council were informed in advance.

Vikki Spearow, who has sons at Pride and Benito, said had she known of Johnson's intentions, she would have voiced strong opposition.

Elli Schulten, who has two boys at Pride, agreed.

"You have a responsibility to make sure your children are safe," Schulten said. "When they put a cell phone tower up there where they can't prove it's not harmful, it makes it very difficult for a parent."

Schulten said she requires a 100 percent guarantee the cell tower isn't harmful.

Reporter Kenneth Knight can be reached at (813) 865-4842.

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