Cell tower to be built at Oak-Land Junior High

A new 125-foot telecommunications tower will soon loom over Oak-Land Junior High School, located at 820 Manning Ave. N. in Lake Elmo. The city council approved a conditional use permit at its May 6 meeting, giving Verizon Wireless Communications the green light to construct the monopole tower on school grounds this summer.

Faulk and Foster Real Estate will be building the tower on behalf of Verizon, which is leasing approximately 800 square feet of school property at the western edge of Oak-Land’s northern parking lot.  The small, fenced-in parcel will house the tower and a small accessory building.

Verizon’s proposal was the first facility to be submitted under the city’s new wireless communications ordinance adopted in 2009. According to a city staff report, the updated ordinance “was intended to place a much higher burden on an applicant to demonstrate the need for a new tower before the city would authorize the construction of any new facilities.”

The city hired OWL Engineering & Test Labs to determine the need for a new communications tower.  The company’s founder and president, Garrett Lysiak presented his study’s findings to council members at the meeting.

Lysiak concluded that there is a gap in Verizon service coverage in the area, and determined that a new tower would help to fill that gap.

He said a 40-foot tower at the Lake Elmo Airport, 2.5 miles away, is the closest communications tower to the proposed site at Oak-Land. The airport is not capable of supporting a new antenna or providing the needed coverage.

His research indicated that a new, 125-foot tower would be necessary; anything shorter would result in a coverage gap. Verizon originally proposed building a 130-foot tower, but had to scale-down construction plans to meet the maximum allowable height of 125 feet under the city’s ordinance.

Safety issues

Lysiak addressed safety concerns voiced by members of the council and planning commission. The tower, he said, would be built to withstand 80 mile-per-hour winds and radial ice loading.
“I’ve seen hurricane damage where the only thing that’s left standing is the cell phone tower.”

He also quelled concerns over exposure to radio frequency radiation. Lysiak said he performed a “worst-case” radiation analysis to determine what amount of RF energy would be present at the tower’s base, assuming that the RF energy was directed downward.

Through his analysis he was able to determine that the maximum level of RF radiation reaching the ground would be less than 10 percent of the American National Standards Institute’s standard value, which is not classified as a radiation hazard.

Lysiak was quick to note that this is not a real-world scenario, since the antennas on the tower would be built to radiate RF energy towards the horizon, not the ground.

Cash for the district

The city’s wireless communications ordinance contains a site ranking analysis for the location of a communications tower, which gives first preference to a tower being located: on an existing tower or existing structure, followed by placement on top of a building four stories or higher, on utility poles over 75- feet high, on public lands and facilities, and lastly, on private land in the city.

It was determined that the first four options were not workable in the southeast portion of Lake Elmo, but constructing a tower on school property would be a suitable choice, and also designated as public property under city code.
“A school is the best place to put a tower,” Lysiak said. “This is a good site. It’s a good use of the land. The school (district) will get lots of money, and everyone’s happy,”

Stillwater Area Schools director of operations Dennis Bloom said the district already has wireless communications towers on school property -- one at Stillwater Junior High School and a double pole at Jaycee Field.

Bloom said the district could expect to receive around $1,000 per month in lease payments per antenna for the tower at Oak-Land. To meet city code, the tower is designed to have capacity for two additional antennas from other carriers placed lower on the tower.
“We can (eventually) expect to get at least $35,000 to $40,000 a year for sure,” Bloom said.

Bloom said the towers go up quickly, and the district has been told the tower could be completed by the end of summer. Before the tower is erected, the school board must first approve the lease agreement with Verizon, which it is expected to do sometime this month, according to Bloom.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822


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