A- A+

Building Community at Franklin Junior High to Strengthen DSM USA

Franklin Jr High

June 14, 2019

Do you know the history of Franklin Junior High?

As a neighbor to the campus, I’m telling you the transformation underway at this former church and school is preserving history and building community in Greater Des Moines (DSM).

Back to School

Franklin Junior High opened in 1951, grew with the city and later became a church after the school closed in 1979. First Federated Church (now The Mission Church) bought the building in 1980, grew a large congregation and hosted Des Moines Christian School before moving to Urbandale in 2018. 

Local developer Jeff Young bought the property last March, aiming to preserve history and create community with the nearly 235,000 square feet of space on the 12-acre campus at the intersection of three DSM neighborhoods.

With strong support from neighbors and alumni, plans for the campus include hosting Birchwood Montessori School while offering office space for community tenants, a boutique hotel, a restaurant in the former cafeteria and a bar in the former science lab. Two gymnasiums and a range of spaces will accommodate events. The larger of the two auditoriums seats 4,200 — the region’s largest indoor performance space aside from the Iowa Events Center.


Young’s plan also seeks to install 88,000 square feet of gardens planted along 48th Street and Franklin Avenue — DSM’s largest outdoor plantings aside from the Des Moines Botanical Gardens.

Time for Assembly

Franklin Junior High has already hosted a range of assemblies sponsored by Birchwood, starting with Facebook’s Community Boost.

Among the dozens of organizations seeking neighborhood-scaled meeting space, Franklin has attracted a cohort of arts organizations including Des Moines Young Artists’ Theater and Girls Rock. The nation’s second women-owned studio is taking shape there now.

The gyms are full of Des Moines’ school and community leagues, even hosting Kiwanis Miracle League’s Halloween baseball party when rain prevented them from celebrating at their Principal Park field.

And then there is the auditorium stage, which has been full of local talent. From Nada Silent Night XVI and Summer In The City to elementary concerts and Miss Amazing, there have been so many community-building experiences in the 70-year-old performance space.

Today’s Civics Lesson

Iowa enjoys a lot of attention from Caucus hopefuls, and Franklin has welcomed discussions on national and local issues with advocates like Cameron Kasky and candidates like Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Polk County Housing Trust Fund’s Affordable Housing Week brought an exhibit on the intentional and systematic racial housing segregation of the 1930s to current political and social issues.

Indeed, Franklin Junior High is a great place to contemplate our shared past, present and future.

Adaptive reuse of the campus — well cared for as a school and by the church — is a compelling example for a circular economy that strengthens DSM. Realizing the vision for Franklin Junior High generates at least $400,000 per year in property taxes for Polk County and DSM on a parcel that hasn’t been taxable for 70 years.

Extra Credit

On top of the strong demand to use and visit the space, it’s especially gratifying to see the endorsement of the project by so many, including all three adjacent neighborhood associations (Waveland ParkMerle Hay and Beaverdale), City staff and a unanimous vote from the Plan and Zoning commission in April.

Join us Monday, June 24 as City Council votes on the rezoning of the campus.

It’s time to preserve history and create community at Franklin Junior High.

Throughout Greater Des Moines’ (DSM’s) eight county region, a thriving economic environment is attracting more investors to do business. Learn more about other recent development projects in the region.

Teva Dawson

Teva Dawson leads Group Creative Services in Des Moines, a public art consultancy hosting Art Week Des Moines 2022 with more than 150 artists.