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Tower Under Construction In Norwich

Will Improve Communications For Police, Fire, Public Works

Norwich — The Norwich tower is finally being built.

After more than a year of Selectboard meetings, conversations and public outcry about who would build and own the tower, construction began on Wednesday and is expected to be completed by Thanksgiving, Town Manager Neil Fulton said.

The 180-foot tower, which will be located near the public works garage on New Boston Road, will be fitted with new emergency communications equipment for the police, fire and public works department.

The tower is needed because the Federal Communications Commission at the beginning switched from broadband signals to narrowband signals nationwide. Since the switch, all three departments have experienced degraded radio coverage throughout the town. Once the tower is built and all the departments have switched over to the new frequency, singal coverage should improve immensely, Fulton said.

“Our goal going back probably a decade was to improve the public safety communications,” Fulton said. “The three departments and myself feel that it’s been a long road, but it will be worth it because we’ll have better communication capability, which can better serve the town.”

The Norwich tower will be part of a seven-tower regional simulcast system, that will boost radio signals for fire services throughout the Upper Valley. Hanover received a grant last year that has allowed the town to purchase a new radio system for its fire and EMT service, which has benefitted towers in Bradford, Hanover, Norwich and Hartford.

Recently, the new system was tested and a portable fire radio in Cornish could connect with a portable radio in Bradford. Previously, the normal radio range was only a mile, Fulton said. Once the Norwich tower is completed, the fire department’s communication will improve, he noted, especially on the western side of the town.

The police department’s communication is still lagging because it hasn’t made the switch to the new frequencies yet, but coverage will improve come Thanksgiving, Fulton said.

The tower will cost about $500,000, with $92,000 of that covered by a grant for the police department’s equipment.

During summer of 2012, the town negotiated with VTel, a Springfield, Vt.-based broadband provider, to let the company build and own the tower for its own commercial use while allowing the town free access for radio communications.

But the VTel agreement was met with reistence from many residents, who disliked the idea of a private company building and controlling access to the tower. Residents eventually organized a vote at Town Meeting in March and an article was passed, authorizing the town to borrow money and build the tower itself without the help of VTel. The Selectboard went along with residents and no final contract was signed with VTel.

The tower will be used for municipal purposes only. Under the terms of the bond, the town cannot sublease to private entities for 10 years, which is when the bond will be paid off.

Since March, the controversy over the toweer had quieted down. The town received its Certificate of Public Good in September, and Fulton said no opposition was submitted to the Public Service Board.

Norman Miller, who lives near the tower site, said after the decision was made not to allow VTel to build the tower, people accepted it.

“Things have been quiet because that’s how the politics shook down,” Miller said.

But that doesn’t mean people are happy with the tower. He said many people are still upset that the site is so close to the center of town, and he worries that property values could be affected by the tower.

“Everyone that goes to the recycling center will be looking up and seeing a big ugly utility,” Miller said.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com.