Sprint PCS, a leader in the cellular phone industry, is seeking to put a 150-foot telecommunications tower behind a playing field at Woodbridge Senior High School. The proposal has angered many neighbors, who say the structure would be a blight on the skyline and fear it would expose children to radiation.
The tower would replace a light pole behind the outfield fence of the high school's baseball field, company officials said. The tower would be made of concrete or galvanized steel and look similar to the existing pole, only taller and with antennas on top, they said.
Many residents, though, have found the idea of a high-tech tower on the grounds of a county school unsettling.
"This is not so much a 'not in my back yard' [situation] as it is a community concern because of 3,000 kids going to school there," said Joan Waggener, a Lake Ridge resident who lives about a half-mile from the high school.
Officials from Sprint and Prince William County stress that there is no evidence that these types of towers are harmful to people or the environment.
"There's no danger associated with this technology," said Larry McDonald, spokesman for Sprint. "When we go to a site like a school, we do a health assessment to make sure we're far below [Federal Communications Commission] standards" for electromagnetic emissions.
McDonald said that his company has numerous partnerships with schools in other localities and that the agreements have worked well. If the tower is approved, it would be the second such edifice in Prince William. A similar structure is already up on the grounds of Woodbridge's Forest Park High School, which will open next fall.
The county Planning Commission will address the issue Dec. 1. If the commission approves the tower, the issue will then be taken up by the Board of County Supervisors.
At a meeting of the Lake Ridge Occoquan Coles Civic Association on Thursday night, residents also expressed several other concerns to Sprint and county officials. Those included the tower's effect on property values and its impact on views in the area.
The proposed tower also has raised questions about whether schools should be partnering with corporations in this manner.
"I just can't see the need to put this on taxpayer property," said Will Morrison, a Lake Ridge resident. "I can't see why tax dollars would be used to subsidize Sprint."
School officials, however, see it as a boon for taxpayers because the tower would bring in additional revenue in rent. George Pincince, supervisor of facilities planning for Prince William County public schools, said that negotiations with Sprint are ongoing and that the pole would bring in about $18,000 a year. Pincince said that amount could triple if other telecommunications companies choose to install their antennas on the tower.
Still, Morrison and others are unswayed.
"There's no way they're going to lower my taxes because they get some nominal rent," he said.
Despite such protests, Supervisor Ruth T. Griggs (R-Occoquan) said that her office has received more calls supporting the tower and the improved cellular services it would bring than ones opposed to it.
"Most people have said that there's a gap in coverage and they want it filled," Griggs said, though she added that she wanted to make sure the tower "won't be an enormous garish thing you can see for a million miles around" before she supported it.
"Everyone understands why we need telecom antennas," said Jim Waggener, husband of Joan, the Lake Ridge resident. "But it is a question of how to minimize their intrusive nature in a developed community."