An old Sweetbay store is being transformed into a new charter school in Valrico.

By Brad Stager

Where Valrico customers once shopped for food to put on the table, a new tuition-free public charter school is taking shape to nourish young minds.

Navigator Academy of Leadership, a K-8 school with a SMART curriculum emphasizing science, math, art, reading and technology with an expected enrollment of about 1,000 students, will be housed in the long-vacant 58,505 sq. ft. former Sweetbay supermarket at 1101 Bloomingdale Ave. in Valrico, just east of Bell Shoals Rd.

The conversion is being done by MG3 Developer Group of Hollywood, Florida. MG3 has developed several charter school projects throughout the state, including BridgePrep Academy of Riverview.

According to Melissa Prado Aguilar, who is part of the educational services provider team for the school, the end result of the transition from an unused supermarket will be a high-quality facility appropriate for education when it opens in the fall.

“It allows us to repurpose a building that’s been a hidden eyesore,” she said of the property that has been unoccupied since 2009. “There’s been a lot of due diligence by the developer for this.”

Most of the work involves changing the interior space from one containing shelves and display cases to accommodating about 50 classrooms and office space.

A large part of the school’s footprint will be the parking lot. Aguilar said they are working with traffic engineers to use its 110-vehicle capacity to mitigate potential congestion on Bloomingdale Ave. and Bell Shoals Rd. due to school traffic.

As a Hillsborough County district public charter school, Navigator Academy follows state mandated standards in curriculum content and assessment. Students will take standardized tests, but preparation for those exams are not the school’s focus, according to Ivan Hernandez, who works with Aguilar to manage the academy’s academics.

“They will not be taught to the test,” he said. “We believe in asking not ‘are you teaching it,’ but ‘are the students learning?’” he said.

The curriculum also includes art and music instruction to complement technology offerings that range from robotics to space exploration. The school’s location will help fulfill the educational needs of the growing number of families in the area, said Aguilar.

“It seems parents in this area want choice.”

For more information,visit navigatoracademyvalrico.com or call 863-866-7566.