NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education may have some power to prevent a wireless data transmission facility approved by the Board of Mayor and Burgesses from installation atop Maple Hill Elementary School.
At a Dec. 13 PTO meeting with town officials, Mayor Bob Mezzo told the board he had found a provision in the contract he signed with Clearwire stating it was subject to approval by the Board of Education.
Kathy Donovan, chairman of the education board, said the board is sending the contract to its counsel to determine what they can do since the agreement was executed in February without the board’s knowledge, in spite of the provision.
“I don’t know what the board’s role is at this point,” she said.
Board member David Heller was not at the meeting, but said he was pleased to hear that the board may have some input. He said the board had to first consider what would be best for the students, faculty, and staff, and that he would not support the contract.
“Hopefully, our input will be accepted and considered,” said Heller.
Carol Boscarino has grave concerns about potential long-term effects of the approved communications facility on her children’s health.
Boscarino was one of about 30 parents who attended the Naugatuck Board of Education meeting Thursday, Dec. 9 to voice worries over the wireless facility.
Boscarino said Clearwire’s assurances the facility would have no long term effects on children’s health were empty because there is no long term research on the new technology.
“To bolster revenues on the backs of our children is unacceptable,” Boscarino said.
The facility would bring in about $12,000 a year in rent to the town.
Mayor Bob Mezzo said he was not weighing the revenue the facility would bring to the town against potential risks to kids’ health when he and the board of burgesses approved Clearwire’s plans in February.
Mezzo asserted he had no intention to cause harm to children.
“I had no knowledge that there were health concerns,” said Mezzo.
Mezzo said although he is not a scientist, he was not convinced there are any negative impacts from the facility.
Under the worst case scenario, the facility would emit radio frequencies at three-tenths of a percent of permissible exposure by the Federal Communications Commission, according to Clearwire.
Both planning and zoning questioned the applicant about the possibility of radio frequency waves propagating through the school and were satisfied that there would be no harm to the children, borough engineer Wayne Zirolli said, in a subsequent interview.
Clearwire volunteered to place protective layers on roof to protect students from stray emissions, Zirolli said.
The Board of Education complained that they were not sufficiently informed of the plans in its early stages.
Although the town government had no legal obligation to inform the Board of Education, Mezzo agreed there should be better communication between the two entities in the future.
“Anything that affects the school building should be brought to the Board of Education,” Donovan said.
Several members of the Board of Education had met with Clearwire in October, but hadn’t passed on the information to the rest of the board.
“I wasn’t too concerned about it (at the time),” said Board of Education member James Scully.
Board of Education Vice Chair Barbara Lewis said the communications facility doesn’t belong on a school.
“Until there’s some long term data, it’s an unknown,” she said.
Board member Rocky Vitale agreed.
“I don’t want to hear there’s a very small chance (that there could be negative effects). I want to here there’s no chance,” he said.
Concerned parents referred to the facility as a cell tower, but it would actually be a box, about the size of an air conditioner, according to earlier reports from the zoning commission.
Clearwire currently plans to use the facility for data transmission, not cell phone signals, but it could be adapted to transmit cell signals in the future, according to Clearwire representative Rob Stanford, at a November zoning meeting.
Diane Parzyck said she was concerned about the safety and construction of the building.
“We feel that these issues are real,” she said.
Maple Hill School currently has a radio tower and inactive weather station on its roof, which can hold up to 500 lbs., enough to accommodate the new facility, according to the planning commission.
Board member Michelle Kalogrides asked how Clearwire would gain access to the school.
Stanford stated at the November zoning meeting that Clearwire would only have access by appointment and escort and the company would be responsible for any damage to the roof.
Parent Sherry Galvin said she can limit her kids’ exposure to the hazards of everyday life at home, but has no control over it at school. She said children absorb more radio frequencies than adults. The facility may harm children’s health but would not benefit them educationally, she said.
Parent-Teacher Organization Vice President Jessica Williams pointed out that two members of the planning commission voted against the tower.
“The bottom line is that we just don’t know what the risk is,” she said.
Zirolli said, in a separate interview, the boards made as informed a decision as they could based on the information that was provided.
Its tricky balancing everybody’s interests, but the board did the right thing, trying to keep the best interests of the town in mind, Zirolli said.
Parent Jen Connolly felt her questions were not answered at the meeting, and added that she doesn’t allow her own children to use cell phones or other technology that transmits radio signals.
“I always opt for the safer option,” she said.
For Connolly, any risk to her children is not worth the extra revenue.
“How many of us does it take before this thing is shut down?” she asked.
An engineer from Clearwire was not able to attend the meeting, but Mezzo said they are willing to set up another meeting.
Mezzo said he felt Clearwire is questioning its commitment to the project, especially in light of the recent controversy, and may choose to pull out all of its proposed facilities in Naugatuck.