2007 MFE Awards
Merit: Adaptive Reuse

More than 1 million cars travel annually through the tiny town of Ajo, Ariz. (pop. 4,000), stopping for gas and snacks on their way to Mexican beaches, which are about 40 miles south.

But the town is poised to become a tourist attraction with the renovation of a historic public school into the Curley School Artisan Lofts. Located next to the town plaza, the building, which was built in 1919, has been transformed into 30 live/work rental lofts for artists and those with creative home businesses.

The $9 million project, developed by the International Sonoran Desert Alliance in partnership with Enterprise Community Investment, was conceived as part of an economic development project. The development seeks to capitalize on the popularity artists have in the desert area by creating destination tourism and bringing in additional revenue through art sales.

The Curley School redevelopment plan, which was completed by The Architecture Company of Tucson, Ariz., adapted the classrooms and hallways into spacious studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom loft units ranging from 800 square feet to 1,700 square feet. All units have 11-foot ceilings, large windows, and significant natural light.

The building's Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, which features a stucco exterior, red-clay tile roof, terra cotta, and concrete ornamentation, was preserved during the restoration, as were the large, semi-circular windows and exterior courtyard.

Curley School offers affordable housing for households earning between 40 percent and 60 percent of the area median income, with monthly rents ranging from $200 to $625.