UPPER MARLBORO – Milestone Communications and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) have officially ended their contract to place cellphone towers on school sites.
Just months after two cellphone tower projects at Accokeek Academy and Eleanor Roosevelt High School failed to move forward, Milestone Communications and PGCPS have scaled back their relationship and severed a contract to place any additional towers on school system property. The announcement came from Milestone on Aug. 23, the same day Milestone hand-delivered a letter to the school system and the Prince George’s County Board of Education.
“Milestone has chosen to conclude this part of the relationship based on lack of commitment from the administration regarding the continued growth of the program,” said Milestone President Len Forkas in his letter to PGCPS Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell.
Forkas and a board of education committee had met in May after two proposed tower placements had received heavy pushback from the Accokeek and Greenbelt communities. During that meeting, the two entities had discussed the future of their relationship and had seemed eager to continue with the contract, as Board Chair Segun Eubanks had said he was in favor of keeping the relationship. The board committee had even discussed ways to move forward to better inform the community about plans for cell towers.
A large amount of the community’s concerns stemmed around the process Milestone followed in informing nearby stakeholders of the proposed towers. Many complained that the communications company, which is a regional powerhouse in cell phone tower placement and construction, was not adhering to the requirements to inform the community.
Lupi Quinteros-Grady, the board of education member who represents Greenbelt, at the time had written a letter to Maxwell urging him to reject the tower at Roosevelt because of that very reason.
“The process followed by Milestone Communications has shown a lack of respect for community engagement and a complete dismissal of community concerns. The very location of one meeting showed a clear insensitivity to the community’s views,” Quinteros-Grady wrote in the letter. “There was no prior notification to me or the board of education, which prohibited my own participation since the meeting was scheduled the same night as a board meeting. It was also brought to my attention that Milestone did not respond to the Greenbelt City Council when its members sought a meeting to discuss their concerns.”
Milestone and Forkas had admitted at the committee meeting that there had been some bumps in the process, but committed to doing a better job. However, in the letter sent Aug. 23, Forkas said Milestone had followed all the rules.
“Milestone has worked with PGCPS staff for the past six years and has followed all approved procedures in the agreement. Milestone has consistently complied with all of the existing policies adopted by the school board on each tower project,” he said.
After the failed tower project in Greenbelt, Quinteros-Grady said there may be some on the board interested in canceling the contract with Milestone due to transparency issues. Board Vice-Chair Carolyn Boston said transparency and accountability were the main factors in the school system agreeing to terminate the contract.
“As a board, we understood the community’s concerns about transparency and accountability related to cell phone tower placement,” Boston said. “We are pleased the administration took these concerns seriously. We must always balance community concerns with financial benefits to the school system.”
Maxwell also said the termination of the contract was in the best interest of the school system and the Prince George’s County community.
“We had significant concerns about the site selection process and overall community engagement. Terminating the marketing agreement is in the best interests of Prince George’s County Public Schools,” he said.
While Milestone will no longer build towers on PGCPS sites, the company will still manage the already built and running cellphone tower sites at a number of county schools.
Those sites include Charles H. Flowers High and Charles Carroll, Madison, Kenmoor, Oxon Hill, and Benjamin Tasker middle schools. There is also a tower at Green Valley Academy. The school system will still receive revenues from the sites as well.
“Milestone will continue to professionally manage the existing six tower locations, focusing on generating additional revenues to PGCPS from leasing space on the tower to additional wireless service providers,” Forkas said.
Forkas also left open the option of reviving the contract in the future, saying he would welcome the opportunity to work with the school system again.
“We would welcome the opportunity to work with PGCPS in the future in the event PGCPS chooses to consistently administer the program according to adopted policies,” he said.
The school system did not say if they were open to further negotiations with Milestone.