A cellphone tower is set to break ground this month, weather permitting.
AT&T is building a new tower where Fayette Street meets the Baw Beese Trail to extend coverage to a half-mile radius dead zone, which includes Hillsdale College’s campus. The telecommunications company is looking to break ground some time this month and hopes it will be up and operational in nine months, according to Alan Beeker, the City of Hillsdale’s zoning administrator.
“We are currently working to make additional upgrades to better support our customers in the Hillsdale area, including Hillsdale College,” AT&T Michigan spokeswoman Teresa Mask said in an email. “We’re constantly evaluating the needs of our network to meet demand and provide a great experience.”
AT&T is leasing the property from the city, according to Beeker. Payments for that will begin soon.
Bill Zeiser, a city councilman and a graduate student at Hillsdale College, said he hopes the extended coverage will provide adequate means for communication in the city. He said he has heard from residents who were unable to contact emergency services because there was no signal. Zeiser said he needed to purchase a microcell — a small box that functions as a miniature cellphone tower — to receive phone calls for work in his own home.
“It’s frustrating to me that in my own home and in my own neighborhood, I don’t get any reception,” Zeiser said. “It’s ridiculous in this day and age that AT&T, one of the most major service providers, has such significant dead zones. These days, we rely more and more on these devices. I think this will be a big improvement.”
Hillsdale College students expressed excitement for the new tower, noting that AT&T’s service on campus is not up to par as other providers.
Senior Maria Thiesen said she cannot call her mom from inside the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority house, though other students with different providers can.
“It’s terrible,” she told The Collegian. “If I have calls, very rarely can I stay in one spot without losing the call.”
Beeker explained that in order for construction to begin, the frost must disappear and the mud must dry up.
“The weather is not being cooperative right now,” Beeker said, but added, “There are a hundred of things that can slow down or temporarily stall construction. I don’t foresee that. Most of this is pretty this is like any other tower they put up.”
City council approved the construction of the tower in May, despite some concerns from the city’s planning committee and community members about its location.
“Infrastructure is not pretty, but cellphone towers are so ubiquitous now, you won’t notice,” Zeiser said. “The fact is that we need these towers, and they need to go somewhere.”
Beeker said the chosen location is one of two that meets AT&T’s requirements, city zoning ordinances, and the Federal Communications Commission’s rules against building towers in a floodplain.
The second possible location was to combine AT&T’s tower with that of the WCSR radio station. The only place to build the tower on WCSR’s property, however, was where its current tower stands. Tearing that down would put WCSR off the air for six to nine months, Beeker said.
“It was immediately ruled out,” he said. “Logistics would not allow for the construction of the new tower while the old tower existed.”
The location where Fayette meets the trail was the only option, Beeker said.
Building the tower there does conflict with the city’s master plan, which looks to make the property along the Baw Beese Trail and St. Joseph River space for parks and recreational activity. Historically, though, the city has reserved that space for industrial and commercial purposes because the railroad runs parallel to the trail and river, Beeker said.
In addition to provide more cell phone coverage to AT&T customers, the tower will have rental space for more equipment in the future.
“Whenever you expand a business to grow their outreach, you’re improving a business,” Beeker said. “If you improve a business, that’s a bonus to the city.”