First Look Inside Elementary School That’s Being Turned into Apartment Building for Artists

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- On Tuesday Afternoon, WHO-TV Channel 13 News got an exclusive, first ever look at the changes that have been made to a historic elementary school in West Des Moines, that dates back to 1939.

"Phenix" was West Des Moines' first elementary school and was open for 75 years before it closed in 2014. But for the past few years since then, renovations have been taking place at the former school. The $4 and a half million construction project is repurposing the spaces inside the former school into one, two, and three bedroom apartments. There will be some 17 units in the building. There will also be art studio spaces inside, as only artists will be allowed to live in the building. That restriction means in order to live at the Phenix School Apartments, you need to prove that you make a living as an artist.

“There’s a restriction that you need to qualify as an artist," said Matt Hauge Director of Communications and Marketing for Community Housing Initiatives.  “Basically what that means is you produce an original visual or performing art product of some kind. You can be a creative writer. You show us samples of that, you talk about the fact that it’s a commercial enterprise for you. So, we’re trying to see that you go beyond being a hobbyist. You fill out a form, you sign your name, and we can qualify you as an artist for the property.”

The goal behind the project is to attract artists to the Valley Junction area.

"The idea is that on 5th Street, there is a really...nicely kind of blooming, creative community," said Hauge. "People think of 5th Street in Valley Junction as antiques and things like that, but, it still is, but the neighborhood has really started to bloom into a really interesting kind of catchy place. They’ve got a really intact kind of historic downtown stretch on 5th Street, which is great, and so as that community has settled here, there’s been some dialogue about how to sort of integrate residential into that mixture, right? So, you’ve got people who love coming to 5th Street, let’s think about some things we might be able to do with housing, to add some new options for folks."

Rent will range from $650 to $1,200 a month. Interior renovations of the former school will be completed by the end of this month.