LOWER EAST SIDE — One of the Lower East Side's oldest institutions just got a new look.
The Educational Alliance recently opened its $55 million Manny Cantor Center after spending the past two years gut-renovating its 100,000-square-foot building at 197 East Broadway. While the art studio and early childhood classrooms are still under construction, the new center's fitness area, after-school teen space and rooftop community room are now open.
"The center truly will be a living laboratory for the reimagined community center, one that brings our diverse community together over shared goals for our neighborhood, our city and beyond," said Robin Bernstein, the president and CEO of the 125-year-old organization.
Bernstein will be stepping down this month to make way for the Educational Alliance's new president Alan van Capelle.
The center's 7,000-square-foot fitness area provides the latest workout equipment along with classes such as Zumba, Pilates and yoga. Accessing the fitness center requires a membership fee (less than $60 per month for one person and a little more than $80 per month for families), but financial aid is available.
"My experience has been in the last two weeks, it serves so many different people," said Karen Overbey, 49, a Lower East Side resident of seven years who recently joined the fitness center. "I have met so many people I would never normally meet."
Since the center is located in an area that is considered a naturally occurring retirement community, programing for seniors is a key focus. There will be workshops and social events for the elderly, including a free lunch on weekdays in the top-floor community room with views of the city skyline.
"We are providing a place for them to be healthy and connect with each other," said the center's executive director, Joanna Samuels.
Not only will seniors take yoga and line dancing classes, they will also be invited into the early learning programs to pass on their talents to kids, Samuels said.
While 197 East Broadway has been the headquarters for the Educational Alliance since the late 1800s — the organization also has other locations around the city like the 14th Street Y — all its programs moved to other venues during the two years of construction. Now, those programs will return to East Broadway over the next few months.
The Educational Alliance’s art school will return from its temporary location on East 12th Street sometime in the spring, according to Samuels. The program will continue to offer classes in ceramics, drawing, sculpting and painting.
An industrial kosher kitchen in the new center's basement, which is still under construction, will be used to feed program participants and to host healthy cooking demonstrations for seniors.
The center is named for the late Manny Cantor, the father of a past Educational Alliance board member. Cantor moved to United States from Poland as a teenager in 1921 and later used the success of his dry goods business to give back to the community, according to his son Richard Cantor.