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Charter school boom spawning new real estate business

A New York-based property manager is scoring top marks for getting ahead of the cityʼs charter school boom.

Despite having 197 charter schools and a further 14 in the pipeline, AKAM Living Services — a company that has specialized in residential property management since 1983 — said the city has no professional school facility management companies.

Photo by The Leaf Project/ Flickr
Photo by The Leaf Project/ Flickr

Seeing a niche in the market, the company formed the Ashtin Group, a branch of AKAM that focuses entirely on managing all aspects of school facilities.

“We can do for schools what we can do for commercial properties,” said Ajo Kurian, vice president of the Ashtin Group.  Since the branch opened in 2010, the company has grown to manage a dozen schools to date. Working with a mix of owners, they manage schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and in Newark, New Jersey.

Kurian said with the number of new schools opening in New York City, there is a demand for a company like Ashtin, which offers a thorough management of the buildings’ facilities.

“When we come to a new client, they recognize that they can focus on education, and now they have us to focus on the facilities,” said Kurian. “And it’s being maintained correctly so they don’t get additional payments, which was the case in a lot of properties.”

Ashtin’s services take care of everything “from the roof to the basement,” including mechanical and technical systems, heating and cooling systems, and designing a management plan for the systems, which includes maintenance and preventive maintenance of the systems.

With many schools that reached out to them, facilities management was always done in-house. “We knew that schools didn’t have the experience and expertise that we have here, which is over 30 years of property experience,” said Kurian.

New York City has gained nearly 300,000 new residents since 2010, a number that translates to 75,000 people per year, according to U.S. Census data.

Many charter schools in the city share space with public schools, but that space is becoming limited, and charters are looking to open their own spaces.

Enrollment in public charter schools has seen a big increase lately — Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz, who runs a 34-school network in NYC, told the audience at an American Enterprise Institute event in December last year that applications went up 56 percent for her charter school network, with more than 6,000 families seeking admission. Moskowitz plans to create 100 city charter schools by 2024.

New York City has the longest waiting lists for charter schools in the nation, according to a report released Monday.

Last fall, 163,000 student names were on waiting lists for charter schools in the city, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The Ashtin Group is mainly focused on K-12 schools, both public and private charter schools, but Kurian said they will be open to expanding into other markets, including New Jersey, South Florida, and the East Coast.

Kurian said the company has been successful with schools because of its personal attention.

“We took the hospitality approach that we apply to our residential clients and applied it to our education facilities management side; we treat it as if our own children go there,” said Kurian.

“I know it’s corny to say, but we’re a property management company putting itself in the shoes of owners or the school or students, and wanting to make sure the facilities run efficiently and well, so there’s no interruption to the instructional process.”

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