Phenix School Apartments

May 13, 2020 · Live, Preserve · 0 comments

The redevelopment of the 75-year-old Phenix Elementary School into a 17-unit apartment building for local artists is a model for responsible historic preservation to better a community. The goal of this project was to help bolster the local art scene in Historic Valley Junction by linking the residential neighborhood to this blooming creative scene. The project consisted of the conversion of classrooms and offices into one, two and three-bedroom apartments and studio work spaces for artists. The Art Deco style of the building seems poetically suited for its new purpose in the community.

The repurposing of this historic elementary school is a fundamental tack in preserving a historic Iowa neighborhood and making sound choices in use of an existing infrastructure to reconnect the residential and local art scenes. The completed building reinforces the live/work relationships found amongst local Des Moines artists for years to come. For residents of Phenix School Apartments, it’s the opportunity to curate artistic growth. What once was a trading and shipping post, Historic Valley Junction is now one of the main spots for artists to flourish in the Des Moines area.

The project serves as an example of the success in building repurposing, but a special model in use of a cherished neighborhood education hub that has touched the lives of many. Student-painted tile projects were preserved in the hallways of the apartment building, along with rows of lockers. The gymnasium still has its stage and two original basketball hoops. The school’s best-known attributes were also preserved, like the large classroom windows to allow for natural light, bay windows in the former Kindergarten room, and original wood cabinets in the former art classroom.

The project is also an example that positive change can happen in small steps. This cherished historic structure is now making a difference to a community and serving as an example to many others.


Location: West Des Moines, Iowa
Program: Housing
Area:  32,900 Sq Ft
Client: Community Housing Initiatives
Photo Credits: Cameron Campbell, Integrated Studio