LAND O’ LAKES — Seven Oaks Elementary School will be getting a cell tower, despite the pleas of parents who say they fear radio waves from the tower could harm their children.
The Pasco County School Board, in a 4-1 vote, approved a cell-tower lease agreement with F&L Towers of Tampa at a Tuesday evening meeting that drew a few dozen Seven Oaks parents and students, several of whom urged the board to scuttle the plan.
They said the revenue the tower would generate for the school and the district is not worth the potential risk.
“There is no monetary amount that could replace the health and well-being of our children,” said Dan Reyes, the father of an autistic student at the Wesley Chapel school.
The parents cited research that suggests cell towers could be dangerous, though the effects might not be realized for years.
Their arguments were countered by Assistant Superintendent Ray Gadd who showed the board a map that revealed many cell towers within a one-mile radius of Seven Oaks and another map showing cell towers sprinkled liberally throughout the county.
“Regardless of whether or not we approve this cell tower, it is clear all the kids in Seven Oaks and all the kids in Pasco County are being exposed to radio waves,” Gadd said.
The school district already earns revenue from cell towers at Fivay High School in Hudson, Long Middle in Wesley Chapel, Sunlake High in Land O’ Lakes and a future middle school site in the Meadow Pointe subdivision in Wesley Chapel. Cell tower lease agreements also have been approved for Gulf Trace Elementary in Holiday and Sand Pine Elementary in Wesley Chapel, but those towers haven’t been constructed.
Gadd said when the cell tower at Long Middle was approved several years ago, the district conducted a study to determine the exposure level. The district measured radio-frequency emissions at various points on the campus before and after the tower was erected, and saw minimal change, he said.
In all cases, he said, the levels were just a small percentage of the standard considered acceptable by the Federal Communications Commission.
With the exception of board Chairwoman Alison Crumbley, who cast the dissenting vote, the board members sided with Gadd.
“I’m of the opinion — and you obviously most will disagree — that if we are concerned about these things we would dispose of our cell phones and never have them in our homes,” board member Allen Altman told the parents.
The 10-year cell-tower lease agreement with F&L Towers, which includes options that could extend it to 30 years, calls for the company initially to pay the school district annual rent of $24,000.
The rent would increase 3.5 percent each year. In addition, the district would receive an extra $12,000 annually for each tenant that locates on the tower. The district estimates the tower could generate more than $1 million over 30 years.
The board originally was scheduled to vote Nov. 19 on the lease agreement, but held off for a month at Superintendent Kurt Browning’s request after Seven Oaks parents showed up to protest the plan.