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Top NYC towers are keeping it classy with new educational perks

School house rock: STEAM-focused kids classes are held on the roof of 50 West.

Shivani Vora   June 24, 2021  7:31 p.m.

From romper rooms to classrooms, lavish play spaces for children in upscale building are a perk that parents almost expect. Now, a few of the nation’s top towers are pushing educational amenities — from fully outfitted classrooms and on-demand access to top tutors, to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) classes — that rival the offerings of elite private schools.

Months before the pandemic, a 186-unit tower in the Financial District, dubbed 50 West, signed a partnership with Tribeca Language to offer Spanish, French and Portuguese classes for kids who are between ages 3 to 5. STEAM-based activity sessions in collaboration with the early childhood specialist Dearest are another amenity. Classes are either free or cost up to $30.

But moving into the development — designed by German-American architect Helmut Jahn — isn’t quite so cheap. Rentals there start at $6,200 a month, while condos range in prices from $1.7 million to $14.5 million for a penthouse.

Thea Wittich, the co-founder of Gather Amenities, the company that provides 50 West’s perks, said that one of the most popular STEAM sessions started off with kids making a pair of binoculars using common household items such as toilet paper rolls and string. Afterward, their teacher took them on a nature walk where they had to identity three types of birds using their new toy.

“We’re trying to mimic what kids learn at school,” said Wittich. “When we saw that STEAM activities have become a big part of the curriculum for younger students, we brought them to our residents.”

Whitney Fishman, 36, who lives in 50 West, has two boys, ages 2 and 4. Her older son took Tribeca Language’s weekly Spanish lessons and also participated in some of the STEAM classes.

“It’s amazing and incredibly convenient to be able to take advantage of quality education right where we live,” said Fishman.

Over on the High Line, 520 W. 28th St., a luxury condominium designed by Zaha Hadid, is upping the learning ante even more with a dedicated STEAM learning lab.

Called Sandbox Powered by Related, the space has a 3D printer, laser cutter, computers, clay and axles, and offers regular classes on robotics, beginner coding, ceramics, digital design and virtual reality.

Units in the building start at $3.85 million, but a triplex penthouse sold last fall for just over $20.2 million (it was asking $50 million).

“We didn’t want the typical playroom with toys,” said Greg Gushee, executive vice president at Related Companies, who started Sandbox Powered. “We want to give kids the skills they need for success.”

Access to sought-after tutors is another benefit that buildings are dangling in front of residents.

The Hell’s Kitchen rental 525 W. 52nd St. started a partnership with Radiant Prep this April to offer tutoring to kindergarteners through high school seniors on any topic in the property’s library or lounge. Radiant Prep’s director and founder, Brice Messavussu, said that residents get one free trial hour and pay $117 subsequently — a deal compared with other tutoring companies that charge several hundred dollars or more per hour.

Packages for multiple sessions are discounted between 25% and 42%. (Monthly rentals at the building start at $3,700.)

Resident Kendra Nunez, 32, a teacher’s assistant, hired Messavussu to tutor her sixth grade daughter Odette, in math fractions. Remote schooling had taken an academic toll on her, according to Nunez, and her grades dropped from B’s to D’s.

“Odette wasn’t learning nearly as well remotely as she did face to face, which really impacted her grades,” she said. “Thanks to working with Brice, she’s back to B level and feels so much more confident.”

Opportunities to inspire are also available to New Yorkers who have migrated to Miami since lockdown. Arte Surfside, a 16-unit condo in Miami where apartments start at $10.3 million, also offers private tutoring in a new collaboration with Command Education. Sessions, which start at $1,000 an hour, are held in a classroom at the building that’s filled with computers, smartboards, 3D printers, robotics kits and more.

Command Education’s CEO, Christopher Rim, said that the company has a waitlist of more than 40 students, but Arte’s residents get to skip the line.

“We guarantee that you will have a tutor, either digitally or live, in the subject you need in 12 hours, whether it’s Latin classics or biology,” he said.

Arte resident, Ruth Sapir-Barinstein, who lives between Miami and London, hired Rim to tutor her 16-year-old daughter.

“My daughter is super driven and wants straight A’s,” said Sapir-Barinstein, 47, who is the sister of the building’s developer, Alex Sapir. “Chris taught her in two weeks what she didn’t learn in a year.”

One Boerum Place, a rental in Brooklyn that’s debuting in July, will also offer residents a similar bypass the waitlist perk with the school consulting company Manhattan Private School Advisors. (Rentals start at $4,154 a month.)

Founder and CEO Amanda Uhry said that the demand for her services has jumped significantly in the last year, a reflection of the increased interest in private schools in the wake of the pandemic.

“We have a long list of families waiting, but with One Boerum Place, we’re like an on-call concierge,” she said.

The company’s prices range from $10,000 to $20,000 for an entire admissions cycle, but residents get a 25% discount.

But these learning perks aren’t just for kids.

“I am a geek at heart,” said Adam Sah, 50, a resident at 520 W. 28th St. who works in the software industry. “I learned how to make magnetic lids for my spice jars in there. I also learned how to cut leather, steel and wood in the laser cutter. I might be an adult, but I never want to stop learning.”


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Originally published in the New York Post on June 24, 2021.

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