August 17. 2017 8:57PM

Merrimack schools reject request for cell tower lease

Union Leader Correspondent

MERRIMACK — School officials quickly shot down a request from a wireless provider seeking to lease school property for the construction of a new communications tower.

A representative from Tower Resource Management, Inc., reached out to school administrators earlier this month on behalf of their client, American Tower Corp.

According to Matt Shevenell, assistant superintendent, the company is interested in constructing a new, 125-foot high wireless communications facility in Merrimack in the vicinity of Reeds Ferry Elementary School.

They asked the school district to consider leasing about 1,000 square feet of school district property — likely adjacent to or behind some of the ball fields or playground.

This week, the school board discussed the matter and unanimously agreed that it would not explore the request.

“We don’t know the health impacts of these kinds of things,” said Shannon Barnes, chairman of the school board. “We have so many potentials for child safety concerns — let’s not add this one.”

Barnes said the district’s top priority is student safety, adding it would be counterintuitive if school officials considered the proposed lease.

Shevenell said the lease payments to the district would be a maximum of $20,000 a year for about 25 years.

After speaking with the school district’s attorney, Superintendent Marge Chiafery said there would be multiple steps to the proposal if the school board was interested in exploring the feasibility of a lease, including public hearings.

“It doesn’t seem worth it for the financial return, to be honest,” said Naomi Schoenfeld, school board member.

There are too many questions and too many unknowns, she added.

“I know that parents would have a lot of angst over it,” echoed Andy Schneider, school board member, maintaining that it fundamentally does not seem appropriate to put a tower in a school zone.

Michael Thompson, another school board member, said he also opposed the idea. He was also against a separate cell tower proposal two years ago in his own neighborhood on Joppa Road.

At the time, town planners were considering a different wireless project on residential property along Joppa Road spearheaded by AT&T. Following a contentious battle with neighbors who organized a petition opposing the project, AT&T ultimately withdrew its application and decided not to move forward with the proposal.

Neighbors argued that the tower would be an eyesore, did not belong in a residential neighborhood and could potentially decrease property values.