Development slows down

JACKSONVILLE — If you see a bunch of new folks in town — dressed conspicuously in coats and ties and other professional attire — the chances are good they're among the first occupants of Bigham Knoll, the emerging project that is transforming the former Jacksonville High School into a mixed-use development, says one of the owners of the project.

"I think they are already making their mark in Jacksonville," says Brooke Ashland, who with husband, Mel, is working to transform the 7.57-acre former school site to eventually include their firms, a preschool, a German restaurant, ballroom meeting space, an inn and a spa.

"Sometimes after work I'll see a couple of them come over to downtown," says Sandi Torrey of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

About 30 staff members from Ashland Partners already occupy the building. When fully occupied the offices will have 50 staff members from Ashland Partners and seven from Cutler Investments.

"We are running behind where we obviously had hoped we would be," says Brooke Ashland. But the building process — not the economy — has led to the delay, she says. Larger development projects in the area, such as Medford's Bella Vista and The Commons, and a Table Rock resort have either been delayed or canceled.

"I don't think there is an economic slowdown," Ashland says. "We are trying to hire some of the top subcontractors and we are waiting in line. In my opinion Jacksonville is somewhat immune to the factors that caused slowdown."

Stucco application is underway on the reconstructed bell tower of the 1908 school building. The original tower was taken down in 1959. After the tower restoration is finished, Ashland says, she plans to write to the Medford School District board to request return of the original bell, currently on a pedestal at Jacksonville Elementary School.

The remodeling of two cinder-block buildings for a new preschool is next on the to-do list. Conversion of the gym into a ballroom and the addition of corporate retreat space should begin in August.

Ashland says she has been in contact with numerous groups in the valley to determine how to renovate the space.

"It will be the only ADA-accessible assembly building in all of Jacksonville," says Ashland. "It will make a nice, accessible space for large gatherings up to 300 people."

Construction of the German restaurant in the former music building on the property's north side also is underway. The renovation has received approval from the town's Historic and Architectural Review Commission.

The entire project has been approved by the Jacksonville Planning Commission, but individual components of the project must be brought to HARC, which will review final appearance details to ensure they are in line with the historical flavor of the town.

Among items to be reviewed are the landscape plan and three new buildings southeast of the historic school that will house an inn and spa.

"The inn and spa are definitely on our radar screen, but not for this year," says Ashland. "We have our hands full with the restorations. The goal is to get those finished and up and running."

"It seems pretty hectic, but it's a very good project," says L. Scott Clay, city historic preservation officer. "It's nice to see the historic school house preserved."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at

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