Bigham Knoll gets green light

JACKSONVILLE — The Cascade Christian High School property — renamed Bigham Knoll by its new owners — can proceed with its makeover, thanks to a use change approved by the city Tuesday.

Mel and Brooke Ashland plan to add a German restaurant adjacent to the old cafeteria on the historic 7.57-acre property and a new performing arts center in the old gymnasium.

They also plan to build an inn and spa on the hillside below the school, Brooke Ashland said.

The Ashlands already have begun a new private preschool in the old language building.

The couple have been renting the property from Cascade Christian since August. Escrow, which was opened in May, is slated to close on the property next week — now that the city's conditional approval has been granted, said Brooke Ashland.

"When we go in again (before the planning commission), we'll be asking for sign-off on the restaurant, inn and spa, performing arts center and the two corporate cottages," she said.

Structural retrofitting has already begun, as has restoration of the historic bell tower, she said.

"We are in the process of a seismic retrofit," she said. "We're basically building the building from the inside out. We took all the asbestos out of the building. The original floors are in fabulous condition."

Ashland said the renovation has unveiled color changes over the past decades. Gone are the white walls with blue trim from the Cascade Christian era. Now there are dark wood floors, black trim and ocher-colored walls, the buildings' original color scheme, she said.

"Once you take all the walls down you can see a complete color history of what was originally there," she said.

The restoration and new construction work has benefitted the local economy, she said.

"We have awarded over $1 million in contracts to people within the 899 prefixes," Brooke Ashland said. "And that's just the start on the remodel."

The Ashlands have been in negotiations with Cascade officials for more than two years, Brooke Ashland said. Removal of the restrictive zoning and acceptance of the proposed use change were necessary to complete the sale, she said. Their multi-million dollar offer on the property has been accepted by Cascade officials, but she declined to give a specific purchase price.

"The sellers were happy because they got full appraised value," said Brooke Ashland.

The use change was approved by Jacksonville Planning Commission Hearings Officer Jerry Ferronato at a public hearing Tuesday.

"The approval was granted with conditions," said Daryl Witmore, assistant planner.

The appeal period was waived because there was no opposition to the proposed use change, Witmore said, adding most of the conditions pertained to parking requirements.

The special protection zoning on the northern portions of the property was removed earlier this year. That allowed the old school to be used as the new location for the Ashlands' two businesses — Cutler Investment Group and Ashland Partners.

The baseball fields and other areas in the southerly sections of the property remain under the special protection zoning, said City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen.

The property currently comprises six tax lots and 44,642 square feet of aging buildings, including the former Jacksonville High School, which was remodeled to become Cascade Christian High School in the 1990s.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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