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Indian River officials ready for enrollment boost from townhouse project outside Fort Drum

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WATERTOWN - Housing projects near Fort Drum usually boost enrollment numbers at Indian River School District, and officials are preparing for another big one that is expected to increase the scope of a multimillion-dollar capital project now being planned.

California developer Fidelity Holdings Corp. plans to build anywhere from 215 to 230 multifamily townhouse rental units off Route 11, north of Eagle Ridge Village. The developer is making a push to approve the project in the town of LeRay this fall and break ground in the spring, finishing construction in three years. District and town officials are scheduled to meet Oct. 30 with the developer to discuss the plan.

Geared toward high-ranking military officers with families, the townhouse development is expected to create a major surge in enrollment at the district, Business Manager James R. Koch said, and it could mean that more classrooms and building space will be needed for its capital project. The capital project calls for improvements at all eight of the district’s schools, including primary schools in Antwerp, Evans Mills, Calcium, Theresa and Philadelphia. The district aims to approve the capital project by the end of the year, Mr. Koch said. It then would be considered by voters for approval in May during the annual school district budget vote.

Mr. Koch will report student population projects to the board in November based on the anticipated impact of the Fidelity project. Based on those projections, he said, the board will have to consider expanding its capital project. He did not have a preliminary estimate on how many students the project could generate. But if the project averages two students per townhouse, it could boost enrollment by up to 460 students.

“If they build, we’re going to have to build,” Mr. Koch said. “We’re going to need to move ahead of this as far as we can, because kids will be moving in there quickly. It’s usually light the first year of construction, then it gets heavier as the number of units increase. The board will need time to react to this project” before the capital campaign is approved.

District board members also will have to consider a three-year tax break that Fidelity plans to pursue this fall. The payment-in-lieu-of-taxes deal will be negotiated by the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency on behalf of Fidelity. It also will require approval by the town of LeRay and Jefferson County.

Enrollment numbers at the district have skyrocketed in recent years, Mr. Koch said, thanks to the number of housing projects built near Fort Drum. The latest districtwide student count in late September of 4,471 — including students from kindergarten through 12th grade — was 501 students more than last year at the same time, when 3,980 students were enrolled.

Enrollment is expected to continue climbing this year, Mr. Koch said, because of the number of families with children moving into new rental townhouses at Eagle Ridge Village off Route 342. A total of 92 units under construction will start opening up for families this fall at the site. When those units are completed in the spring, the subdivision will include a total of 740 units built over the past six years.

Indian River has led districts in the region with the highest enrollment count since the fall of 2011, when it surpassed Watertown City School District.

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