Select Board seeks proposals for a new cell tower on Bolton Road

The Select Board is working on a request for proposals for a cell tower to be located at the Bolton Road water tank but will need to find a source of technical expertise to proceed with the project. Assistant Town Administrator Marie Sobalvarro presented the draft at the board’s Jan. 19 meeting.

The draft RFP sets four evaluation criteria for respondents: creditworthiness, aesthetically pleasing design, ability to use the tower, and experience with similar construction. Select Board Chair Alice von Loesecke recommended adding an additional criterion stating that the tower should greatly improve cell coverage in the south and southeast Harvard, which the new tower at Woodchuck Hill Road will not adequately cover. When the board voted to begin work on this RFP at its Dec. 15 meeting, improving coverage was the primary reason. The Select Board described it as a public safety issue since residents without cell coverage might be unable to contact emergency services. The estimated $44,000 annual lease income was also a driver of interest.

Sobalvarro said she would need help with this, since accurately quantifying and describing the current and desired cell coverage is a complex task. Select Board member Rich Maiore suggested that the town hire a consultant, both to describe the desired coverage and to provide other technical expertise throughout the RFP process. Other members expressed concern that doing so would be expensive and time-consuming.

Sobalvarro said she would ask the Zoning Board of Appeals whether the town could still call on the services of Isotrope Engineering, the engineering consulting firm that assisted the town with Verizon’s proposed cell tower at 12 Woodchuck Hill Road. She said she would also attempt to get help from any citizens with relevant expertise.

Select Board member Lucy Wallace suggested that the criterion “most aesthetically appropriate” be adjusted to specify that the design should minimize its visual impact. Von Loesecke suggested setting a height limit on the proposed tower designs, but Maiore disagreed. He pointed out that Isotrope Engineering’s previous analysis of the site had indicated that a tower as tall as 160 feet might be needed to provide strong coverage, so the town should wait and see the coverage proposals that respondents provide. Wallace suggested saying that the design should reflect a balance between coverage provided and tower height.

Members also expressed concern that the tower might be close enough to residential properties or town utilities to cause damage in the event of a collapse. Because of this, the board decided to include a clause requiring that respondents insure the tower to pay for any damages caused.

Maureen Reitman, the owner of a property abutting the proposed tower location, offered to help Sobalvarro with the coverage maps. She also contested the Select Board’s assertion that the limited cell coverage in south Harvard is a public safety issue, pointing out that Harvard’s emergency service personnel are equipped with radios that do not require cell coverage to function.