Purcellville to Outsource Cell Tower Build at Basham Simms

After years of poor cell coverage, residents in Purcellville’s Hirst Farm neighborhood might be pleased to know the town is one step closer to improving the issue for good.

The Town Council Tuesday night voted 6-0-1 to authorize staff to advertise for proposals to build a telecommunications tower at the Basham Simms Wastewater Facility off South 20th Street. Mayor Kwasi Fraser abstained from the vote because of his position with Verizon.

Council directed staff to do so once it finalizes contract extensions with the cell carriers currently in place on the Maple Avenue water tower—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. Public Works Director Buster Nicholson said that could be done by July. According to a staff report, the new cell tower will increase cell coverage in the southwestern portion of town, allow for the town to install its own equipment to improve daily functions and provide the town with a source of revenue.

Having a firm manage and pay for the design and construction of the cell tower will cost the town nothing, but will provide it with revenue in the form of a percentage of what the firm generates annually from the leases it negotiates with cellular carriers.

Staff will rate the firms on their proposals using a 100-point system—60 points each for their descriptions on how they plan to increase the town’s bandwidth and increase cell coverage area; 25 points for how they plan to maximize revenue for the town; and 15 points for how they plan to make room for town equipment atop the tower. That equipment could improve the town’s communications and daily functions, such as improved water meter readings and police radio systems.

Residents in the town’s southwestern quadrant, specifically the Hirst Farm neighborhood, have experienced poor cell coverage for at least the last four years. Those issues were exacerbated last summer when AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon were forced to relocate their cell antennas from atop the 205-foot-tall Maple Avenue water tower to spots 55-95 feet lower on a temporary tower when the town began repairs to the water tower. Nicholson said those repairs should wrap up by July and will most likely improve cellular coverage in town to some extent.

On some occasions, residents have had to leave their neighborhoods in the southwestern part of town and drive to areas of town that have better coverage to conduct business calls.

As a step to better the situation, the Town Council in February voted unanimously to direct town staff to create an implementation plan for a town-managed design and construction of a 125- to 175-foot-tall cell tower at Basham Simms, which sits about a mile-and-a-half south of the water tower and abuts Hirst Farm.

In April, the council instead opted for an outside firm to handle that process, since the town would have had to pay $240,000 to design and build a 175-foot-tall monopole and would not have been able to pay that back until a third of the way through year three if four cell carriers leased space at $1,500 per month.

Because the town will outsource the cell tower build and will no longer need to spend any money up front, the council Tuesday night also voted unanimously to return to the Wastewater fund the $280,000 that it transferred to the Wastewater Capital Improvement Program in the fiscal year 2019 budget.

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