Purcellville Solicits Firms for Cell Tower Build

Although the relief won’t come this year or next, residents living in Purcellville’s southeastern quadrant could get the improved cell coverage they’ve been pushing for by early 2021.

            The Town Council last week authorized the town staff to advertise a request for proposals soliciting interest from firms looking to build a 125- or 175-foot-tall cell tower to accommodate up to eight cellular carriers at the town’s Basham Simms Wastewater Facility off South 20th Street. The advertisement was put out this week, giving firms 55 days to respond. Town Attorney Sally Hankins said it’s reasonable to assume that the new cell tower could be installed and functional in the next 18 months.

            According to the town staff, the tower, which the selected firm will be required to manage for at least the first decade upon completion, will increase cell coverage in the southwestern portion of town, will increase town-wide bandwidth and will allow the town to install its own equipment to improve daily functions like improved water meter readings and police radio systems.

It will also provide the town with a source of revenue, as the selected firm will be required to provide the town with a percentage of the cellular carrier lease payments it generates annually.

            Hankins said that if the selected firm determines that the tower needs to be 175 feet tall, as opposed to 125 feet, it would take longer to move along because of existing zoning restrictions in town.

            Town Manager David Mekarski said that a taller tower might be needed because the site is 40-70 feet lower than the Maple Avenue water tower site, where four cellular carrier antennas are typically affixed.

According to the advertisement, the staff will rate the firms on their proposals based on how they plan to increase bandwidth, how far the plan to increase the cell coverage area, how they plan to maximize revenue for the town, and how they plan to make room for town equipment atop the tower. Particular weight will be given to bandwidth and cell coverage.

Advertising a request for proposals for a Basham Simms cell tower will replace a previous plan in which the town considered managing the tower’s design and construction in-house. According to staff estimates, that project would have cost the town $240,000—a cost it would not have been able to pay back until a third of the way through year three if four cell carriers leased space at $1,500 per month.

The initiation of the new project is the beginning of an end to many residents’ poor cell coverage issues, which they’ve experienced since at least 2015.

Those coverage gap problems were exasperated last summer when the town began repairs to the 205-foot-tall Maple Avenue water tower, forcing AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon to relocate their cell antennas to spots 55-95 feet lower.

On some occasions, residents living in the Hirst Farm neighborhood have noted that they’ve had to leave their homes and drive to areas of town that have better coverage to conduct business calls.

While the Basham Simms tower won’t be in place anytime soon, work on the town’s water tower should wrap up in the next few months, with the cell antennas slated to be re-located atop the tower by mid-November.

Already, the tower has been sandblasted and painted with the Town of Purcellville’s logo on the north and south sides, the Loudoun Valley High School logo on the east side and the Woodgrove High School logo on the west side. The water tower will also soon receive structural repairs, including the installation of longer bolts at its base, which should be complete in late October.

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