The Cedar Rapids Community School District’s school board has halted plans to place a cell tower atop Johnson School of the Arts.
During the board’s Monday regular meeting, members voted to table a motion to lease part of the building’s roof and an addition to Verizon Wireless for installation of a cell tower. If approved, the proposed agreement would’ve provided $25,800 to the district’s general fund with a 3-percent annual increase for each subsequent year of the five-year contract.
“We can always come back at a later time and provide the issue with the support of the Johnson community,” said Steve Graham, executive director of business services for the Cedar Rapids schools, during the meeting. “We would be well served to do this for the community and I think they would support it given there’s a $25,000-plus funding stream we could certainly use as a school district.”
The board voted unanimously, save for Board President Mary Meisterling who was absent, to table the motion. That vote came after a public hearing, in which Johnson Elementary parents voiced their concerns against going through with the vote at this time. Residents raised concerns about the health impacts the tower could have on students and staff in the building, whether or not Johnson was targeted because of the school population’s ethnic and socioeconomic makeup, and the short timespan between announcement of the lease and the vote.
“I’m just impressed that (the board members) listened to us and responded,” said a surprised Dennis Barnett, parent of a Johnson student. “The system works.”
Both Graham and Rob Kleinsmith, district buildings and grounds manager, said that Verizon requested to install the cell tower on Johnson, and the school was one of two structures in the area that the company considered for the project.
Superintendent Dave Benson said the next step will be for consultants to visit Johnson and meet with community members about the issue. In addition, administrators will consult with the district’s legal counsel about the process for bringing the agreement back for board approval at a later date. Benson said the timeline for both of these actions is before the board’s next regular meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 11.
“We are thrilled to bring a meeting to Johnson so families can be informed of the various issues involved in bringing a cell tower,” said Susan Millar, president of Johnson’s Parent Teacher Association and wife of Barnett, who said she was not speaking on behalf of the organization. “(The board) did a great job of listening to our concerns.”