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Clayton Schools may lease land to T-Mobile

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

A cell phone tower could be headed to an unused piece of land that Clayton County Public Schools owns in Ellenwood, right on the Clayton County-Henry County line, district officials have announced.

On Monday, School System Chief Operations Office Cephus Jackson presented information to the Clayton County Board of Education on a proposed five-year lease, with cell phone company, T-Mobile South, LLC.

Under the terms of the lease, T-Mobile would have to pay the school system $1,200 a month, in rent, for the first year of the lease. The contract also stipulates that the monthly rent will increase by 103 percent on the first day of each new year of the lease.

He said the lease would open the door for T-Mobile to build a cell phone tower on the district-owned land, which is sandwiched between Steele Road and Henry County, near Anvil Block Road and Panola Road. T-Mobile would still have to get permission from the Clayton County Board of Commissioners to proceed with construction of the tower, if the school board approves the lease, Jackson said.

"We have been approached by T-Mobile for the purpose of leasing property to build a cell phone tower," Jackson said. "We, as a school system, would not be responsible for building the tower. T-Mobile would be responsible for going to the county, and getting the necessary permits and zoning, to build the tower. If they don't get the county's permission, then the contract is null and void."

The school board is scheduled to vote on approval of the lease at its Oct. 4, business meeting, according to an early copy of the agenda for that meeting.

The school system has owned the property in question for several years, but has not built anything on it. Jackson said it is slated to, someday, house a replacement facility for East Clayton Elementary School, when money becomes available to build such a facility.

According to the contract, the school system "desires to encourage the location of wireless communications network facilities, and towers, on publicly owned property ... so as to minimize, to the degree reasonably possible, the proliferation of communication towers in Clayton County."

The contract stipulates that T-Mobile must repair any damages it causes to the school system's property during the "installation, maintenance or operation" of the tower. The contract allows T-Mobile to renew the lease for two additional 5-year periods, meaning the cell phone company could lease space on the property for up to 15 years.

T-Mobile officials could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

School board attorney, Glenn Brock, said he drafted the leasing contract, using a format from a similar contract between T-Mobile and Fulton County Schools. Brock is also the attorney for the Fulton County Board of Education.

Several Clayton County school board members raised questions about safety, and money, with the leasing plan. Jessie Goree and Michael King inquired about safety issues related to having a cell phone tower on the same property that a school will someday occupy.

"If the county approves this tower, what's the safety issue now?" Goree asked. "Can you give us information about how close the tower would be to any school we put there?"

Jackson said there should be enough space to put a cell phone tower and a school building on the property without them being too close to each other. "There are 103 acres on that property, and they [T-Mobile] found a secluded area of the property to put the tower," he said.

School board member, Wanda Smith, asked where the money from such a lease would go. "Is it in a specific fund, or will it be used for something else?"

School Superintendent Edmond Heatley, who had been quiet for much of the presentation, said: "It helps to reduce our deficit."

Goree then turned her thoughts to the people living in the area surrounding the property, and whether they would have a chance to voice their opinions on the issue. "Is there going to be a public hearing before we approve this lease, so they can have a say in this?" she asked.

Jackson responded: "We do not have to have a public hearing, but when T-Mobile goes to the county, to get permission to build this tower, they will then be required to hold a public hearing at that time."