Expert claims UCC lacks adequate mobile phone coverage

Photo by Alyssa Lidman
Attorney Greg Meese, right, and radio frequency expert Glenn Pierson, left, representing Union County College, present the school’s case to the Cranford Zoning Board for permission to erect a 140-foot cell tower on campus.

CRANFORD, NJ — A radio frequency expert told the local Zoning Board on Dec. 16 that there is an inadequate cell signal in the basement of Union County College’s campus buildings, an issue that could be corrected by a proposed 140-foot cell tower.

The testimony from Glenn Pierson, of Pierfour Enterprises, on Dec. 16 came on the second day of hearings into the proposal being sought by UCC, and which is opposed by homeowners in the neighborhood surrounding the Cranford campus.

“I’ve noticed that most of the areas inside buildings were extremely poor signal levels compared to what your design criteria is,” Pierson told the board. “It’s a point where interference levels were very high. So, the communication inside was not at any kind of acceptable level. If you get near a window, there would be times when the coverage would be a little bit better.”

However, he stated that there was also adequate outdoor coverage in the parking lot and other outdoor areas. That statement appeared to contradict UCC officials, who have said they needed the tower to fill “major gaps” in its coverage on campus, in case of emergencies.

The tower, which would extend 148 feet, counting faux concealment branches, would be erected in a clearing on the western side of the campus in a wooded area behind the Sperry Observatory that is currently used for composting grass and leaves. The tower would sit within 1,000 feet of 75 homes, some as close as 236 feet away on Princeton Road and would be within a half mile of Brookside Place Elementary School in Cranford, according to previous testimony.

The proposed tower has drawn a coordinated campaign — including a website and lawn signs — by area residents opposed to its construction. The hearings had been delayed since July, when it was originally scheduled, as a group opposed to the tower had asked for a postponement, saying it was not prepared for the meeting.

Attorney Gary Meese, who represents UCC, said in a previous written statement to LocalSource that all the major wireless phone companies have inadequate coverage in and around the campus.

Cranford Swim Club submitted an application in 2008 to erect a facility about three-quarters of a mile away across Springfield Avenue, next to Lenape Park, but that was denied. Wireless carriers have been looking for another solution since then, Meese said. He added that while Verizon had installed a distributed antenna system, or DAS, within the college buildings, it is inoperable during power outages.

In addition to Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile would also benefit from the proposed tower, which also could be available for emergency services and other antennas, Meese said.
According to Pierson, who works with Verizon’s customer base, area users need better coverage, “but the college has an immediate need.”

He also stated that, while UCC has a two-way radio system, it struggles with emails and its notification system.

“I performed some measurements,” Pierson said. “I saw the level of coverage that was in the building, so I saw the level of coverage in some of the outside areas.”
Verizon’s DAS system design was expected to cover 95 percent of the main buildings, including the basement level.

In response to a question by board Chairman Ronald Marotta, Pierson said the goal of the project includes expanding coverage in the surrounding Cranford and Westfield area, in addition to the UCC Cranford campus.

“The goal of this portion is to cover a much larger area of Cranford and Westfield,” he said. “And getting the campus is great. You’ve got a lot of people there. … From a wireless carrier standpoint, it’s a much larger focus than just the college.”

Meese pointed out that Verizon is not looking at the project solely from the college’s standpoint and its issues with cell service, adding that the hills and trees in the area impede signal strength for area residents as well.

When residents at the meeting questioned the necessity of the proposed tower and asked if there are alternatives to correct the cell coverage issues, Pierson stated that there are a few DAS nodes on Riverside Drive. He said Verizon has made improvements on macrosites along the Garden State Parkway and U.S. Route. 22.

Resident Ray Licata asked about using the DAS for additional coverage, but Pierson responded that the tree canopy in the area is about 120 feet high, under which signal strength is weaker. When pressed by Licata about using the indoor DAS for campus coverage, Pierson said that would only be effective indoors.