New Bend campus may be largely in the pit

END, Ore. (AP) - The designers of a campus for a new Oregon university in Bend face a gaping challenge: Much of the site they're dealing with consists of a pumice mine, 30 to 80 feet deep. What to do with that?

They could refill the pit and build atop. But the favored idea is to call the pit a "canyon" and lay out the academic buildings on its floor.

A three-person design team has presented its first take on how to develop a new campus for the Oregon State University-Cascades Campus, the Bulletin newspaper reported.

The branch school has grown rapidly and has approval to become a four-year school by 2015. It plans to buy two parcels on Bend's west side for a campus. They total 56 acres - 46 in the mine, 10 above in Ponderosa pines.

The university envisions three buildings open by fall 2015 containing student residences, classrooms, office space and some retail space.

The designers had three concepts for the site's long-term development, one of which would fill the pit. But they preferred an option that would leave the hole because it would require much less fill to make useable and would help keep cars off campus.

"The most traditional way to prepare the land for a builder would be to just fill it up," said Craig Curtis, a Seattle architect. "In commercial development, you try to get the car as close to the building as possible, but academia offers a different model. If we don't fill it, we only need one-third the fill material, and it will force cars outside of the campus environment, which is an advantage."

The wooded area above the rim would be for student housing in all the plans. The school hopes to eventually turn a county landfill north of the campus into parking.

The favored "canyon" plan would cluster buildings at the mine's north wall to maximize exposure to the sun.

The designers also said there could be access to the top floor of buildings from a road along the rim, and they emphasized that being able to ride an elevator from the rim down into the canyon would increase accessibility.

"Our plan is to offer a variety of ways to get around, using elevators and preferably stairs, which would be useful in icy conditions," Curtis said. "But we also want to be able to offer dramatic ways to get through campus on a trail system."

School administrators stressed that despite the planning underway, they still haven't made final the land purchases - they're awaiting the results of a geotechnical survey.

At an open house, the open pit idea got a positive response, although there were questions about traffic and the ability of students to find off-campus housing. One attendee, though, objected to rebranding the former mine.

"Let's call it what it is - a gravel pit," said Mike Brasfield of Bend.

"They're trying to make it sound all warm and fuzzy," he said. "I'm not saying that they can't do it, and I'm not saying I don't want a university. I just think we should call it what it is."