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Creek Wood students still will be split between school districts

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When the initial portion of the first construction phase of Creek Wood Apartments off Mill Street opens soon, public school officials will have their eyes on Building 17A.

This fall, any elementary-age children living there instead of in the adjacent six apartment complexes will ride a bus 5 miles to Brownville-Glen Park Elementary School, 275 E. Main St., Brownville, rather than walk to nearby North Elementary School, 171 E. Hoard St.

Last year, the Watertown City and General Brown Central school districts walked away from discussions over ceding all the students to the city district. The districts’ boundary line will continue to run through the development, and the next phase of construction will be in the General Brown district.

If parents in those apartments want their children to go to Watertown schools, they will have to pay tuition.

Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Jack J. Boak Jr. said the decision not to play tug of war over the boundary line was mostly financial.

“The conversation revolved around which district would benefit from the federal aid for those students,” he said. “Perhaps if we were in a different financial environment, things would be different.”

Watertown City School District Board of Education President Michael R. Flick said that without changing the boundary line, another financial dilemma arises.

“To try and lump the entire development into a single district would cause problems with where aid and taxes would be directed,” he said. “Given that the development is in both districts, you would have a district receiving taxes for a property and the students going to the neighboring district.”

A portion of the development initially was in the town of Pamelia, but the plot was annexed into the city. Yet “annexation has no impact on (school) boundary lines,” Mr. Flick said.

The boundary-line issue arose three years ago, when the development’s payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement was approved.

Since the decision a year ago to keep the boundary line in place, there have been no discussions regarding it, according to General Brown Business Administrator Michele A. Traynor.

“The angst of this one has been specifically because of its location,” Mr. Boak said.

The development is within walking distance of North and Starbuck elementary schools, both on East Hoard Street. But, Mr. Boak said, “It could very well be that the students are in intermediate and middle school. They wouldn’t be going to those schools anyway.”

Mr. Boak said a district boundary line could be changed.

“Sections 1506 and 1507 of New York State Education Law speaks to the issue of redefining school district boundaries,” he said in an email. “The alteration of a boundary requires that each Board of Education adopt/approve a resolution of consent.”

The boundary line actually slices through Building 7B, but any students in the building will go to Watertown schools, as 90 percent of the building is in the Watertown district.

“In any school district, there’s going to be a boundary line,” Mr. Boak said.

Construction continues

About 10 Creek Wood apartments are nearly finished and ready to be leased, according to a source from general contractor Kulback’s Inc., Lancaster. Creek Wood’s entire first phase will include 13 two-story buildings — with a mix of two- and three-bedroom apartments — for a combined 96 apartment units. Fifty-four will be in the Watertown district and 42 will be in the General Brown district. The site will include a clubhouse with a laundry facility, exercise room and office space, which is almost complete.

Phase 2, which will include 14 buildings with 104 apartments, is expected to start this fall, according to Samuel J. Finlay, vice president of construction for developer Norstar Development USA, Buffalo. But that timeline will depend on when funding for the project is approved by a committee of officials from the Development Authority of the North Country, Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency, Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization and Jefferson County.

The apartment buildings for Phase 2 are slated to be completed in 2013, Mr. Finlay said.

Times staff writers Ted Booker and Rebecca Madden contributed to this report.

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