by: Theo Lebryk

It’s no secret the cell service at Stuart is spotty in certain places. While some places get decent reception, there are sizeable holes around the school. “The cell service sucks; at the back of the school near the gym I can’t connect,” said sophomore Cody Kline.

Help may be on the way for AT&T users. The school is planning to replace a stadium light on northeast end of the football field (the end of the football field farthest away from the school on the home bleachers side) with a cellular “monopole.” The 100 foot tower would still have a stadium light at 75 feet, the height of the current light, as well as space for two additional carriers.

According to Cristian Hernandez, project manager at Milestone Communications—the company in charge of installing the tower—Stuart will make $25,000 off the one time access fee and up to $10,000 more if two more carriers are added to the pole. Principal Prosperanta Calhoun has authorized the initial revenue to go towards the turf field fund, which fills a fourth the required $100,000 the school needs to raise.

Not everyone is sold on the idea of having a tower so close to the school. Stuart parent Scott Campbell has raised concerns about the unknown health effects of being so close to a cell source and the safety of the monopole itself. FCPS recently conducted a study and concluded “For FCPS site [sic] with monopoles, the results indicate that the average maximum power density levels in exterior spaces for cell phone transmit/receive frequencies are approximately 121,793 times lower than the FCC [Federal Communications Commission]standard.” According to Campbell, there have been 18 deaths from tower collapses, 17 towers that have been set on fire, and 13 construction workers have died at commercial sites. Additionally, the Lafayette Park Home Owners Association is concerned that the sight of a 100 foot tower would lead to declining property values in nearby homes. Milestone Communications, the company in charge of developing the tower, has assured it has done its best to lessen “visual impact” and that there is a minimal threat of the tower falling and injuring anyone as the tower will crumple straight down in the case of a collapse.

The need for better cell service at school is also somewhat questionable. “Stuart is already completely wired; this tower will add nothing to this party’s need,” said Campbell at the Oct. 15 Fairfax County Planning Commission meeting. Building a tower to improve cell service seems to contradict the school’s recent push to crack down on phone usage in school.

“I would want that [the tower]” said senior Amir Zeidan, “but we don’t get to use our cell phone at school anyway.”

Ultimately, the Planning Commission found the plan for the tower in accordance with the all the necessary criteria for “location, character and extent.” While opinion may not be unified, the improved service will come as a boon for cell users from Stuart and the immediate community, as well as turf field advocates.

Photo by Nathan Bass