The Kalispell public school district is extending the public comment period and delaying board action for a proposed cell phone tower on top of Flathead High School.
The proposal was initially slated for potential action at the school board’s May 15 meeting, which would have also marked the end of the comment period, but members of a group opposing the tower filed a complaint arguing the public process was insufficient. The group, called Committee for Responsible Information on the Health of Children and Cell Tower Exposure, has cited health concerns in petitioning to stop the project.
In a letter responding to Kay Walker and Ming Lovejoy, who initiated the complaint, Superintendent of Public Schools Mark Flatau said the district will delay possible action until the board’s June 12 meeting. Public comments will be accepted until June 8.
A public forum is still scheduled to address the tower issue on Tuesday, May 15 at 5 p.m. at the Kalispell Middle School Library and Media Room. The public is asked to enter the middle school from the upper parking lot by turning off Meridian Road onto Parkway Drive, as the front doors of the school will be closed.
The possibility of constructing a cell tower arose during planning discussions for Flathead High School’s expansive renovation project. Representatives from Verizon approached school officials about including the tower in the remodel, which is currently in the demolition stages.
The “building and rooftop lease agreement” under consideration would grant “Gold Creek Cellular of Montana Limited Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless” the right to “install, maintain and operate communications equipment” at Flathead High School. The company would pay the school district an annual rental fee of $20,400.
The tower will stand roughly 20 feet above the Flathead High School roof — 50 feet from the ground altogether — and be enclosed in a structure that makes it appear like an extension of the school, according to Tom Heinecke, project manager for Morrison Maierle, the Kalispell company heading up the school renovation’s design and planning alongside Great Falls-based LPW.
The city of Kalispell has requested that Verizon officials conduct a “balloon test” on May 15, in which balloons will be positioned above the roof at the height of the proposed tower.
“Then they’ll drive around the building and see what it looks like from different vantage points,” Heinecke said.
Heinecke added that it won’t look like other cell towers in the area because of the enclosure.
“If you live next to it, you won’t see it,” he said. “If you live far away from it, it just looks like part of the building.”
While those efforts may alleviate questions over the tower’s aesthetics, concerns over potential health risks have prompted efforts from both students and community members to halt the proposed project, leading to the May 15 forum and last week’s public comment period extension.
As of May 7, a student-initiated petition to oppose the tower on Change.org had garnered 245 signatures, while the Committee for Responsible Information on the Health of Children and Cell Tower Exposure, a community group, said as of early last week its own petition had received more than 400 signatures.
For more information, call the Kalispell school district offices at (406) 751-3434.