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Cell tower proposed for Pioneer

NORTHFIELD — A proposed cell tower could bring district schools some extra income.

“AT&T called me, and said they were looking to improve their network out here, and had identified the school as a potential (tower) location,” said Dayle Doiron, superintendent of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District.

AT&T proposed that the company be allowed to build a 120-foot tower on the school grounds, and enter into a lease with the district. The lease would be good for five years, with the option to renew four times, working out to a total 25 years, said Doiron.

The superintendent said AT&T had not specified the monetary amount for the lease. She did say that compensation could be renegotiated whenever the lease is renewed. Doiron also said that AT&T’s proposal would allow the company to lease tower space to other wireless providers, with the district getting a percentage of the proceeds.

Though it was AT&T’s idea, the tower could go to any wireless carrier.

Doiron said the school district will seek bids from other wireless companies, pending School Committee approval. It’s a requirement, since the district is a public entity, but it’s also good business, said Doiron. Other companies could be willing to pay more to build and use a tower.

Doiron said the district’s request for proposals will likely stipulate that whoever submits the winning bid would pay for construction, maintenance, and eventual demolition of the tower, as well as returning the property to its original condition.

The tower would most likely be built in the northeast corner of the 90-acre Pioneer Valley Regional School property.

AT&T initially asked that the tower be placed on the property’s southeast border, a stone’s throw from Old Bernardston Road homes. The district countered, asking that the tower be placed in the northeast corner.

Putting a tower in the district’s proposed location would keep it out of neighbors’ backyards. It would also be a better fit with the recently approved long-term plans for the school grounds, and construction would be less disruptive on the new site, said Doiron.

The new location is more flat, and easier to access for construction or maintenance, according to John Lepore. Lepore recently completed an extensive plan for the grounds, including property stewardship, outdoor education, recreation and other uses.

Doiron said AT&T is reviewing the new proposed location, and has yet to comment.

Next steps

If the School Committee approves the request for proposals at its Jan. 23 meeting, the district could start seeking bids immediately. Doiron said the request would likely be advertised for about a month, to allow all interested parties the time to put together an offer.

Once a proposal has been accepted, the project would need to go through the permitting process.

Wireless communication facilities are allowed by special permit of the Planning Board in Northfield.

The town’s zoning laws say that a tower must be set back from the road by a distance equal to 1.5 times their height, and must be 500 feet from any residence. Though the bylaw says towers up to 120 feet are allowed, the Planning Board is given the option to waive the height limit in the interest of accommodating more carriers on a single tower.

The zoning law states that towers “shall be designed to accommodate the maximum number of communication facilities aesthetically appropriate for that location.”

Whoever constructs a cell tower in town must also post a bond or other financial security to the town, to be used in the event that the tower is condemned and needs to be torn down, according to zoning laws.

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