Down come the cell towers

Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile have disconnected cell antennas at St. Mel School.
Parishioners of a Queens church and parents of its parochial school pupils were jubilant last week after two cellular phone companies unplugged 23 antenna towers from the school’s roof.
The years-long tug of war between the community and the companies finally ended after Sprint Nextel removed its towers from Flushing’s St. Mel School, which had signed a contract in 2000 to lease roof space.

The company had shared the space at 154-24 26th Ave. with T-Mobile.

T-Mobile also agreed to discontinue using its antenna towers after Sprint Nextel made the first move, said City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside).

“They went out the same day [Dec. 27] and turned off the system,” he said. “Within the past week they’ve begun to remove the equipment.”The church and school had attempted to annul the contracts for nearly two years.
“It’s a major victory for all of us, and the parents are thrilled,” Avella said.

A Sprint Nextel official said the company agreed to move out on the school’s request.
“We made the decision in the best interest of serving our customers and the community,” said spokesman Mark Elliott. “That was our sole reasoning for removing the equipment.”

T-Mobile did not return calls for comment, but a spokesman, Wayne Leuck, e-mailed a written statement saying only that “Parents at St. Mel’s School and throughout the area deserve the peace of mind that comes with high quality wireless coverage.”

Church leaders began fighting the companies in March 2006 after parents raised concerns that children were being exposed to possibly harmful radio waves.

In recent weeks, the Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens as well, turned up the heat on the two companies to terminate the contracts, which originally had been a way to raise money for the church and school. “The situation runs akin to the asbestos issue – 30 years ago nobody thought asbestos was dangerous,” Avella said. Public schools are prohibited from erecting antennas by federal law.

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