A company that builds cellphone towers wants to construct poles standing at least 100 feet on Roanoke County school property in two locations.
The Roanoke County School Board gave preliminary approval to Milestone Communications to pursue the projects at William Byrd High and Cave Spring Middle schools.
The company needed the school board’s initial blessing before meeting with Roanoke County planning and zoning staff and applying for a conditional use permit.
School board members voted 5-0 Thursday to let Milestone proceed.
Before construction, Milestone must conduct environmental and historical reviews and soil studies, and reach out to the communities near the tower sites. The company also must present its plans to the Roanoke County Planning Commission, which makes recommendations to the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors.
If the supervisors approve the permit, the school board still would decide the ultimate fate of the tower projects. Milestone needs school officials to agree to lease the properties.
Milestone, based in Fairfax County, builds cell towers through partnerships with school boards and other local government bodies. Verizon, AT&T and other wireless carriers can then rent space on the poles to expand cell coverage.
Roanoke County could benefit from the partnership financially. Milestone would share 40% of its revenue from each tower with the school system, along with a $20,000 one-time fee and $5,000 each time a carrier receives permits.
According to the company, Milestone has developed more than 180 wireless towers since its creation in 2000, and manages potential sites in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Washington, D.C.
On school grounds, the company usually builds towers near athletic fields to blend with light poles. Milestone executives toured potential Roanoke County school sites with administrators, along with school board Vice Chairman Tim Greenway and members Mike Wray and Jason Moretz.
Milestone President Len Forkas and project manager Chris Harold have also presented concepts to the board over the last year. The company representatives said they’ve received interest from at least one carrier at both sites.
Harold told the school board on Thursday that the company would replace an existing light pole on the athletic practice field at William Byrd High with a 120-foot monopole.
The proposed tower site at Cave Spring Middle is about 100 feet tall. It would be built near the Roanoke County police substation on school property. Originally, the company wanted to replace a light pole on the football field.
Harold said the company plans to install either a monopole or panel tower on the Cave Spring Middle property.
He presented photo simulations to demonstrate the towers’ visibility — or lack thereof — from different viewpoints in the neighborhoods close to the schools.
Harold said the company will work to notify school faculty and staff, students and other members of the nearby community of its intentions during the planning stage. The company will also hold “town hall” events and create a website to provide more details, Harold said.
School board member Mike Wray asked if the company knew of any risk related to proximity to cell towers.
Harold said “There’s been no definitive evidence of any harm” because of cell towers, according to reports by national health organizations.
The company also requires carriers to provide advance notice before accessing tower sites on school grounds, Harold said.
School board Chairman Don Butzer said the board understands the need for community input on the proposed projects.