STOCKBRIDGE — Local Verizon Wireless customers should see a few more bars on their devices before the end of the year.
After nearly five years of trying to solve its gaping holes in cellphone coverage, the town has a final agreement with the company for its new tower expected to sign on around Dec. 1. Site preparation began this week.
The town received a signed lease from the company on Monday, the final document needed to proceed with the long-awaited project on the old landfill site off Glendale Middle Road, about two miles west of downtown.
The Select Board had approved a special permit for Verizon Wireless last September for the facility, which would plug signal gaps downtown, on Route 7 southbound toward Great Barrington, and in the Route 183 neighborhoods of Glendale and Interlaken.
The tower also could accommodate antennas for three other carriers besides Verizon — AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.
Verizon is funding the construction of an access road and utility installation to service the tower. Its contractor, D R Billings of Lanesborough, met with nearby residents earlier this week to present a plan for brush-clearing and tree removal.
There's a 45-day construction period for the new access roadway and installation of utility conduits, which will also service the town's adjacent solar project to be built by Ameresco, a major renewable energy company serving North America and the United Kingdom.
"We've been told Verizon will need two and a half to three months to complete its tower," said Selectman Stephen Shatz, who projected the Dec. 1 target date for the site to go into service.
The 125-foot high structure would serve up to 95 percent of town residents, Shatz has said, pointing out that terrain obstacles prevent 100 percent coverage.
Town officials, including former police chiefs Richard "Rick" Wilcox and Robert Eaton, have pushed hard for a new facility, pointing out the need for reliable emergency services communications in all sections of town, including the Main and Elm streets business district.
Select Board Chairman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo, also the town's fire chief, also has been a strong advocate for the tower to ensure medical, fire and police calls can be handled townwide.
In September 2014 by a vote of 68-11, a special town meeting adopted a wireless service bylaw, clearing the way for the installation. After a request for proposals, the Select Board approved the Verizon project on Jan. 15, 2015.
At the time, Select Board members made multiple site visits to the Glendale Middle Road location after considering several unsuitable alternatives. The old landfill location for the facility is set back more than 1,400 feet from the road and more than 1,200 feet away from the nearest residence.
The solar panels for the adjacent project require a three-month construction window, Shatz said. In order to qualify for federal investment tax credits, the installation must be mechanically connected to National Grid by Jan. 7, 2017.
The solar array would power municipal buildings and return additional electricity to National Grid under net-metering rules, with projected annual savings to the town of $190,000 for 20 years.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.