Church steeple doubles as a cellular antenna

January 01, 2005 |

Cellular antennas have become a pesky source of mayhem to architectural landscapes in nearly every city across the nation.

As cell phone use grows (roughly 50% of Americans now own a cell phone), cellular providers are scrambling to throw up antenna towers on every available rooftop and chimney to meet demand for expanded service areas and better reception.

Very few communities have any sort of restriction against the location and design of cell towers. Consequently, most cellular companies end up installing unsightly structures with little regard to the surrounding landscape.

In the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, Ill., a cellular company and a local church devised a novel solution to this dilemma that involved concealing a cellular antenna within a church steeple. Completed last summer, the project not only enhances cell phone reception in the community, but also provides a much need facelift to the Evangelical Covenant Church of Winnetka, while accommodating the village's restrictive zoning ordinances.

The plan was realized when VelociTel, an Irvine, Calif.-based provider of outsourced wireless services, came into contact with the Winnetka church while scouting the area for potential cellular antenna locations for Cingular Wireless. The church property had long been a highly desired location by cellular carriers because of its high elevation, but local zoning ordinances restricted the erection of telecommunication towers on the property because of its residential zoning. As a result, portions of the surrounding community experienced gaps in cell phone service.

VelociTel struck a deal with church officials that involved replacing the building's deteriorated steeple and roof and installing a new spire that would house the antennas. The spire was part of architect John Breidenbach's original design for the church, but was never realized due to lack of funding.

Village officials initially hesitated granting an amendment to the zoning code, but eventually approved a special use permit for telecom use and height variance for the steeple after learning that the project would restore the church to Breidenbach's original design.

The project involved raising the steeple from 90 to 120 feet in height, on top of which the new spire was placed. Four wireless carrier antennas are attached to a pole inside the spire, which is manufactured of a radio-conducive material.

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