Less than two years after it debuted as the only licensed culinary school in Jackson County, the Medford Culinary Academy has shut its doors without any warning to students.

Less than two years after it debuted as the only licensed culinary school in Jackson County, the Medford Culinary Academy has shut its doors without any warning to students.

"I came back to school the next week after being absent for two days, and the doors were locked," said student Keith Pace as he stood outside the building Tuesday. "During those two days, the other students got to collect their things."

The week before the school closed in mid-February, Pace received a call from owner Robert Gregson's grandson, Scott Gregson, saying classes were canceled for a week because his grandfather was sick. There was never a follow-up call to explain what happened, Pace said.

Neither Robert Gregson nor Scott Gregson could be reached for comment.

The Oregon Department of Education learned the academy was no longer operating after students notified the agency.

The agency has contacted the students they know about to tell them they can apply to recoup lost tuition through the state Tuition Protection Fund, said Karyn Chambers, ODE education program specialist. Other students are asked to contact the agency at 503-947-5773.

But that won't make up for all the time spent at the academy, Pace said. Some of the students were scheduled to receive their chef's certificates in April.

"I won't get those six months back," said Pace, who moved to Medford last June from Charlotte, N.C. "Now I need to find another school in a new city."

The agency has been unable to contact Robert Gregson either by phone or mail, said ODE spokesman Gene Evans.

The family that owns the building the school leased wouldn't elaborate on why Gregson closed the academy so abruptly.

"We mutually agreed to terminate the lease," said Teresa Prestage, who, along with her husband, John, is operating The Rock church out of the building. The couple plans to offer the building as a wedding venue.

Gregson remodeled the 7,000-square-foot building, formerly occupied by Harvest Christian Academy, to open the culinary academy in June 2006.

The school offered a one-year chef school, community cooking classes and restaurant cuisine on Friday nights. Tuition for the one-year chef school was $13,000.

The school was close to earning accreditation through the American Culinary Federation when Gregson abandoned the operation last month, said Jesse Bartyzal, local ACF chapter secretary and owner and head chef of B & B Chefs Endeavors Inc.

Gregson is also the founder and former director of the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute. He worked at the institute for four years before abruptly resigning in February 2006. Gregson, who was involved in the community and honored by the area chamber of commerce, gave no explanation other than "personal reasons," according to The World newspaper in Coos Bay.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.