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Sarasota Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021 10 months ago

School district hopes to improve revenue from cell towers

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District leaders hope a third party can help boost revenue from district-owned cell towers.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

When it comes to finding revenue sources, Sarasota County School officials say things are looking up — to the top of cellphone towers, to be precise.

District leaders hope to outsource control of the district’s cell towers to generate more revenue and possibly erect more towers throughout the district.

There are five cellphone towers in school campuses throughout the district: at Pine View School, Suncoast Technical College, Gocio Elementary, Sarasota High and Venice High. Contracts for most of the towers were created in the late 1990s or early 2000s and need to be renewed.

Chief Operations Officer Jody Dumas said it takes the planning department a lot of effort to keep up with the contracts, and he would prefer employing a company with expertise in the industry.

So he proposed entering a contract with a third-party operator to control the district’s towers and the subleases associated with them.

“At the end of the day, we don’t have the expertise in the cell tower industry to know that we’re doing the right things at the right time and maximizing our use of these assets,” Dumas said.

Already, the district has received projections from a company called Milestone that would run the county’s towers for a portion of the revenue from subleases.

According to proposal documents, Milestone would share 10% of the revenue on current subleases. The district would then receive 25% of the revenue on any new leases it brings in.

Milestone projections show that with current towers, the district would collect an additional $340,000 over a 10-year period.

Additionally, Milestone proposed 13 district campuses where it could build new towers. 

If the district agrees, Milestone would fund 100% of the design and $45,000 in construction fees.

“On some of the proposed campuses I think we would definitely say, ‘No, that’s not an area we’d like to have a cell tower,’” Dumas said. “However, there are some opportunities on some of our properties where we could place some additional towers that would integrate into kind of what we’re already doing.”

Dumas highlighted high schools that are anticipating new football or soccer fields as an example. Cell towers could be built into the stadium lighting poles, so the district could receive revenue off of an item that already has to be built.

The current cell towers at Sarasota High School are built into the stadium lighting.

Additionally, Dumas said Milestone would provide liaison services to residents who live near any proposed new tower. 

Questions about radiation or unsightliness would be directed to Milestone, not the school district.

Micki Ryan, the school district’s director of planning, said two of the leases that are up for renewal also don’t allow the district to receive money for co-location on the tower because the contracts were drawn up before co-location existed. 

Co-location is the process of housing private servers and networking equipment in a third party center, like a tower.

With the board’s approval, Dumas said staff will now offer a Request for Proposal to allow multiple companies to submit bids. 

Once a company is chosen, the district will work over the next two years to bring the current towers under management and then begin bringing proposals for new towers before the board for approval.

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