Welcomed or not, the cell tower configuration for Rappahannock County is set for the near future. In its Monday night meeting, the board of supervisors granted AT&T permission to extend two existing Sprint towers in Amissville and Ben Venue.
Three previously approved 199-foot monopoles — behind Rappahannock High School, off Woodward Road south of Sperryville and off U.S. 522 near Boston — completes the configuration.
The cell facilities could be operational by this fall or early winter if construction begins by next month, according to AT&T representatives. County Administrator John W. McCarthy said AT&T already has been issued a building permit for the Boston tower and has begun the process for the Sperryville and high school facilties.
On Monday, all five supervisors favored AT&T’s proposal to extend the Amissville tower from 170 to 198 feet. Hampton District Supervisor Bryant Lee said many residents he’d spoken to were eager for the change, and only wanted to know how quickly the project could be completed.
Don Loock, a county resident and land conservation officer for Piedmont Environmental Council, advocated looking for other possible locations. But AT&T representative Ed Donohue of Donohue & Stearns told the supervisors that co-location is the cheapest and most efficient approach. The most difficult approach is to build a new structure.
As Jackson District Supervisor Ronald Frazier succinctly put it: “The client wants to get [cell coverage] from Amissville to Sperryville as cheaply as they can.”
Extending the Ben Venue pole from 80 to 140 feet received more discussion from supervisors and the audience of four. In the end, Stonewall-Hawthorne District Supervisor Chris Parrish cast the lone dissenting vote.
At the supervisors’ March meeting, Parrish requested that AT&T investigate the impact of leaving the Ben Venue pole as is and instead co-locating on an existing Sprint tower, hidden inside a silo, at Massies Corner. Donohue agreed.
Until reminded by Parrish, however, Donohue made no mention of AT&T’s findings.
Instead, he shared results of a “drive test,” which measured the relative signal strength of a Ben Venue antenna at 120 feet and 144 feet. AT&T brought a crane to hoist an antenna to those heights, Donohue said. The test excludes signals from other sources and was conducted by an independent company, he said.
Donohue reported that a signal was received a mile and a half from the Ben Venue tower at 140 feet, but that the signal diminished in both directions along U.S. 211 when the antenna was lowered to 120 feet.
Loock and Washington resident Demaris Miller voiced opinions in the public comment period. Loock opposed extending the Ben Venue pole, as he had the Amissville pole. In his view, AT&T did not want to look at alternatives that would present less of an impact to the viewshed.
“The applicant gets an A-plus in rhetoric and talking around the issues,” Loock said. He offered that, with the right software, co-locations at the existing height could provide desired signal strength.
“Let’s not let perfect be the enemy of good,” Miller said, repeating a comment she’s made at two other hearings on the AT&T projects, which began when the company filed applications for wireless facilities in October. In her view, Miller said, AT&T had endeavored to resolve citizens’ objections. And, she pointed out that no other companies are “clamoring” to provide cell coverage for the county.
While Parrish expressed appreciation for AT&T’s efforts to accommodate the county, he thought that the extra expense to co-locate elsewhere was negligible for a corporation of AT&T’s size. He observed that the Ben Venue farm has a conservation easement, and stands at the intersection of two historic roads.
The board also met Monday afternoon, where redistricting and the school facilities projects were among the topics addressed.
The board had met at a March 24 work session to adjust county district boundaries. The public will have the opportunity to express views May 2, when the board will vote on the new map.
The redrawn districts must be submitted to the state of Virginia by May 29. However, the plan must first be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Lee said that candidates for local offices in November’s elections must submit petitions signed by residents in the redrawn district.
School and county facility upgrades
In other action, McCarthy reported that only one company submitted a bid to remove asbestos in the elementary school, high school and school board offices that met budget and other requirements. The board approved contracting with Team Electric Services of Front Royal, which will charge $241,913 for the elementary school, $311,676 for the high school and and $21,543 for the school board offices.
Bids to replace the elementary school boiler will be accepted April 7 to 28. Rappahannock County School Superintendent Aldridge Boone will conduct a pre-bid meeting for contractors April 14.
McCarthy offered two options to heat and cool the high school, which now has noisy window units. When the windows are replaced this summer, quieter, more energy-efficient window units could be inserted then.
However, since long-sealed-off asbestos will be removed from ceilings and the lighting replaced, McCarthy said there is also an opportunity to build ductwork for central heating and air conditioning. This would be more energy-efficient than window units, he says.
Parrish expressed concerns that, with central air, airborne illnesses or contaminants present would be carried to every classroom — and that a breakdown would affect the entire school, rather than a single room.
Should the choice be made to install centralized heating and cooling, McCarthy said, the high school might need to live with the current window units for another year. It is doubtful that the centralized system could be put in place this summer; McCarthy has asked engineers to identify solutions and will report at next month’s meeting.
Meanwhile, the board unanimously approved hiring Walter Maben of Luray to coordinate the facilities improvement project, at a rate of $40 per hour for at most three hours a day. McCarthy remarked that this cost, for what amounts to a job foreman, is well within budget.
Maben is retiring from Warren County Schools, where he was involved with renovating Warren County High School — where, McCarthy pointed out, asbestos was removed and the boiler and windows replaced. Also, Maben was involved in energy management and has also served as a building official in Page County.
Other board actions included making appointments to the library board and building code appeals board.
Three people were interested in the library board position vacated by Mary Dobrovir.
“I don’t understand it, but this is one of the few boards that people want to be on,” said Frazier.
The board of supervisors chose to appoint Tom Slade, who lives in the Jackson District, which had no representative on the library board. It’s important to have representatives from all of county districts, said Lee.
The board also reappointed Tom Tepper and Thomas Taylor to the building code board. Their terms expired Jan. 13.
Following a unanimous vote, a request is on its way to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to make the intersection of U.S. 522 and Sperryville’s Main Street a three-way stop, and to furnish the costs of pedestrian crosswalks and two flashing radar-linked speed signs. While the state will pay for the stop signs, McCarthy said, the crosswalks and speed signs would be paid for by the county.