Creston School is moving forward with its plans to install a Wi-Fi tower on school property.
The school board voted unanimously 4-0 on Thursday night at a special meeting to allow Kalispell-based MontanaSky Networks to begin construction of a 118-foot-tall monopole at 131 Creston Road on a 40-by-40-foot easement.
Board of Trustees President Matt Hartle was pleased with the decision.
“I was confident in the process and I know our board members spent a lot of time considering everything and that they each came to their decision independently,” Hartle said.
The tower site is less than an eighth of a mile from the kindergarten through sixth-grade school. It is on property deeded to the district in 1994 by the estate of Eaner and Etta Higgins for school purposes.
The agreement between MontanaSky and the district indicates MontanaSky will cover construction costs estimated to range from $150,000 to $200,000. The company also reserved the right “to maintain, repair or upgrade the facilities at any time without restriction.”
In exchange for locating the tower on school property, MontanaSky will pay Creston School $1,000 in monthly rent, according to the original agreement. In lieu of rent money, Creston will receive broadband service.
MontanaSky CEO Ryan Bowman said he is confident the new tower will meet the school’s bandwidth demands over the next decade without significant infrastructure improvements. The school’s internet speed will be approximately six times faster with the upgrade, Bowman estimated.
Bowman said there is no construction start date currently, but the company planned to schedule it as soon as possible.
“We’ll speak to our attorney to make sure we have all our ducks in a row and we need to get the contractor on the schedule in the very near future,” Bowman said. “We are under a bit of a time crunch because we want to get the concrete poured before the weather turns.”
Plans included painting the monopole green and landscaping in efforts to blend the equipment with its surroundings.
Work on the project was delayed in July after public outcry by some residents in the area over concerns related to health, property values, a lack of communication with the public and how the tower could affect the view of the mountains.
According to an agreement with MontanaSky that was unanimously approved by the school board June 7, “MontanaSky Networks will install a tower, equipment, equipment shelter and any number of radio transmitting and receiving antennas without restriction (but subject to permit and regulatory approval) for the purpose of radio and other electronic telecommunication.”
A public comment period was held in August and an overwhelming amount of letters supported the tower. A review of communications received about the tower showed 122 letters in favor of it and 14 opposed.
A few petitions against the Creston tower were circulated and submitted with petition signatures that were gathered when Flathead High School attempted to have a cell tower installed earlier this year. That measure failed in a 7-1 vote.
Two lawsuits against Creston School District regarding the tower have been filed in Flathead District Court.
A suit brought by Creston residents Petr and Hana Kukla claims that they weren’t granted public access to participate in a public decision to prohibit the school from pursuing what they consider an unlawful course of conduct.
A separate suit filed by William Rogers claims that the wireless tower and any attachments may interfere with the operation of his business. It also indicated concerns about waves from the towers causing health problems as well as his property being devalued by $120,000.
But at a July 23 meeting, there were revisions made to the agreement that included moving the tower about 150 feet west of the initially proposed location as a solution to the concerns with obstructed views to nearby residences.
The agreement also no longer includes a provision to allow another telecommunications provider — namely, cell service providers — to install equipment on the tower in exchange for 40 percent of generated revenue going to the school. There had been some concerns raised about the potential health impacts from exposure to the radio frequency waves emitted by cellular equipment.
Rogers’ suit also said the agreement between MontanaSky and the school violated an agreement in the deed with Eaner and Etter Higgins because he claimed the tower was not going to be erected for school purposes and that it was for a business venture.
Reporter Scott Shindledecker can be reached at (406) 758-4441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.