Cellphone towers coming to Clark College campus?

AT&T wants to put three structures on college building

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Editor’s note

This story was written by a staff member of The Independent, Clark College’s student newspaper, as part of a collaboration with The Columbian called Voices From Clark College. It was published Wednesday in The Independent.

Clark College is negotiating with AT&T to erect three 15-foot cell towers on the roof of the Penguin Union Building.

The towers are not expected for at least a year, but would improve cellphone service on campus, Clark officials said. Clark and AT&T are negotiating how much the communications company would pay to lease the space, said Bob Williamson, vice president of administrative services at Clark College.

Pacific Telecom Services, a representative of AT&T, came to Clark College in April looking for a place in Vancouver to install cell towers. The towers would provide service exclusively to AT&T.

Clark College President Bob Knight told the college council in October that he decided to go forward with exploring the opportunity.

Potential health problems are a main factor in the contract, said Williamson, who is negotiating the contract. Williamson said AT&T will be required to conduct tests to see if the radio waves exceed U.S. standards. The college is also looking into third-party testing, Williamson said. AT&T has offered to pay for this separate test.

According to the American Cancer Society, some people have concerns that living, working or going to school near a cellphone tower might increase cancer risks or other health problems. However, the organization reports on its website that there is very little evidence to support the idea.

"We will certainly negotiate for the best deal possible, and if we don't feel like we are getting the terms that we want, we'll walk away," Williamson said.

The project's time frame is unknown. According to Williamson, even if a deal is reached, AT&T has to go through a site review and permitting process with the city of Vancouver.

"I don't expect cell towers to be up anytime within the next 12 months," he said.

Four other community colleges in Washington have leased property for cell towers, Williamson said.

The college would look at other proposals, if competitors submitted them, Williamson said.

"Our goal is not to become the cell tower capital of Vancouver," he said.

The new towers may benefit campus security. Ken Pacheco, director of security and safety, said the cellphone capabilities on campus are limited. At certain times of the day and during weekends, there is not a dispatcher answering security's landline. During those times, calls are transferred to officers who carry cellphones. Clark College provides AT&T phones for the officers.

Pacheco's cellphone has no signal in his own office. Pacheco said that if on a Saturday night someone were to call the landline and be transferred to an officer's cellphone in a dead zone, the officer would not receive the call.