To the chorus of groans and muffled objections, the Hempfield school board on Tuesday officially gave final approval to Verizon Wireless to build a cell tower behind one of Hempfield's elementary schools.
By an 8-1 vote, the school board granted an easement and approved two amended lease agreements with Verizon, removing two of the remaining obstacles between Verizon and construction of the tower.
The tech company must now apply for a zoning permit from East Hempfield Township if it plans to proceed.
“Disappointed. Extremely disappointed. It's hard to put into thoughts right now,” East Hempfield Township and mother of three Carley Smith said after the meeting. “I'm very frustrated for the lack of concern for the future health and safety of the students and the staff and the community members who are gonna be situated right under the tower.”
Verizon's tower, which has been a contentious topic in the Hempfield community since the summer, would stand 100 feet tall behind Rohrerstown Elementary School on Noll Drive in Lancaster. It would take up 6,050 square feet of land between the school's playground and baseball field.
Rohrerstown Elementary serves 459 students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
School board vice President Adam Aloisi was one of the eight yes votes. He said the cell tower would have “ubiquitous benefit” for the district. Although it was a “hard” choice, he said, the cell tower “poses no specific danger to students or staff.”
The crowd of 50 or so residents in attendance voiced its disapproval using colorful language.
Linda Johnston, who said she was taking “a vote of conscience,” was the lone no vote.
According to the original land lease agreement approved by the board in May 2015, Verizon will pay Hempfield School District $24,000 per year to rent the space. That's not including an additional $3,000 annually for the next five years, and $1,750 in subsequent years, for radiofrequency testing.
Hempfield already has one cell tower – behind Landisville Elementary School, on Mumma Drive – which the school board approved in 2013. Verizon pays the school district $24,000 for that land.
School District of Lancaster, Manheim Township, Octorara Area and Columbia Borough school districts also lease school property for either a cell tower or antenna.
Hempfield residents who vehemently opposed the tower spent the last six months pleading with the school board to not only back out of its contract with Verizon, which could've put the school district in legal trouble, but to take down the cell tower at Landisville.
They even sent nearly a dozen letters from health and safety professionals to board members with hopes to change their minds.
For Smith, the board's near-unanimous decision will likely mean scrounging for extra funds to send one of her children, who now goes to kindergarten at St. Leo the Great School in Lancaster, to private school for the next six years.