The Arkansas Virtual Academy, a statewide online charter school for kindergarten through 12th grades, has acquired the former Today’s Office property at 717 W. Seventh St. in Little Rock for $1.5 million.
The seller was Haybar Properties LLC, which purchased the 24,450-square-foot building in 2021 for $1 million. The warehouse and showroom store was built in 1966.
Amy Johnson, head of school for the virtual academy, said Monday that the property will become the administrative headquarters for the school as well as provide space for in-person student activities, student testing and training for the school’s more than 140 faculty members.
The online school, established in 2003 and with students in every county, has typically leased space across the state for student events, student testing and teacher training, Johnson said. The downtown Little Rock location will serve in place of some of the rented space — particularly in central Arkansas.
Johnson said the school will use about 70% of its federal covid-19 relief money for the purchase and what is expected to be a year-long renovation of the site.
The 4,237-student Arkansas Virtual Academy is slated to receive more than $7.9 million in the special federal funding. In addition to the purchase price of the property, school leaders estimate that $4.2 million will be spent on renovations that will include meeting requirements set in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act; replacing the heating, air-conditioning and ventilation systems; upgrading the electrical and fire protection systems; and adding water-bottle filling stations.
“When renting facilities, we had no control over spacing and air systems quality,” Johnson said. “This allows us to give safe spacing and ventilation for students. These were very key components of our decision.”
Johnson said school planners sought a way to use the one-time federal money in a way “that more powerfully impacts our students long-term.”
The sustainable space will enable the school to bring students in for remediation, host sessions with a focus on particular skills and also impact the city of Little Rock and Pulaski County as a whole through career preparation and readiness programs.
“If we have been blessed with some funds to be able to do extra things for our students, we want to make sure that we are good stewards and that we can bless the community and the surrounding areas in the state, as well, by giving that money the best legs we possibly can,” she said.
The renovation of the top floor of the building, which will require some additional fund-raising over the next few months, will be reserved for what Johnson called the “career up-skill” opportunities.
She said she envisions the virtual academy partnering with area businesses and industries to provide career training programs in that space for not only in the virtual school students but students in other school systems — in part through the use of virtual technologies.