Oregon State University-Cascades Campus on Thursday offered its first take on how to transform an old pumice mine and groves of ponderosa pines into a campus.
The plans were discussed at an afternoon meeting of the Campus Expansion Advisory Committee, a group charged with developing plans for the campus, and later before an audience of 100 at an open house in Cascades Hall on the Central Oregon Community College campus.
The design team’s vision focuses on turning the pumice mine, first seen as a pit that must be filled, into a canvas to highlight the region’s ecosystem. Rebranded as a canyon, the pumice mine, which ranges from 30 to 80 feet in depth, may remain largely unfilled, with academic buildings located within its walls.
“We started exploring the site by thinking about what could grow out of cultivating a sense of place,” said Barbara Swift, a landscape architect based in Seattle and one of three members on the design team.
“We tried to take a step back and look at what ecosystems are growing out of the site already, which is located in the heart of the Mazama province. The land is well suited to the wildlife that thrives in the extreme environment, with dramatic temperature changes and little precipitation.”
The design team presented three visions for the university, intending to offer guiding principles instead of definite plans for the 56-acre campus. One of the plans, named the “Terraced” plan, calls for filling the pumice mine, but Craig Curtis, a Seattle-based architect and design team member, called the other plans “much better.”
“The most traditional way to prepare the land for a builder would be to just fill it up,” Curtis said. “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 designers noted that providing parking will be a challenge, but their vision for the campus attempts to minimize a reliance on automobiles in part by enticing students to live on campus.
“The more students who live on campus the better,” said Phil Worth, a Portland-based transportation planner and the design team’s third member. “It’s a lever that is really controlled by the university, if they can attract students to stay on campus.”
Curtis called a county-owned landfill to the campus’s north the “silver bullet for parking,” noting that surface parking would be cheap to build there. University administrators said that county commissioners have a non-binding memorandum of understanding that acknowledges the university’s desire to later use the site.
In all of the design team’s plans, residential housing is placed outside of the pumice mine on the campus’s eastern and western extremes surrounded by ponderosa pines. The university plans to build its first phase on the eastern edge, a 10-acre plot adjacent to the Southwest Century Drive and Colorado Avenue roundabout.
Currently the university envisions three buildings open by fall 2015 containing student residences, classrooms, office space and some retail. The plot has approval for an access road off Chandler Avenue, but officials also hope to receive city approval for additional access off Century, north of the roundabout. The design team said preserving the existing trees on the site is one of their main goals.
While the first freshman class could reside and attend classes on the eastern edge of campus, likely until they graduate, the design team is focused on the bigger picture.
Of the two plans that do not call for filling the pumice mine, designers favored what is dubbed the “Rim” plan. In this version, buildings would be placed against the canyon wall on the mine’s north side, thus exposing the buildings to as much sunlight as possible.
In the “Canyon” plan, the buildings are simply spread across the floor of the mine.
One advantage of the “Rim” plan identified by the design team is the ability to access buildings on the top floor from a road along the canyon’s rim. While the design team stressed that campus paths would comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, they also 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.”
The “Rim” plan would also allow the southern edge of the canyon to serve as what was called “a natural laboratory,” with small bodies of water that could store runoff and larger open spaces untouched by buildings.
“We believe the land could serve the specific academic programs of the university,” Curtis said, noting the school’s natural resources and sustainability programs.
Despite the emergence of the university’s first long-term design plans, administrators stressed that they have not even completed their due diligence on the sites. The university is still waiting on the results of a geotechnical survey of the land and have not yet finalized their purchases of the plots that comprise the campus.
Reactions to the “Rim” and “Canyon” plans were positive at the open house, though questions remained about the impact on traffic and the ability of students to find off-campus housing.
“I think OSU-Cascades has proposed a really outstanding idea,” said Scott Steele, a local architect. “Most people would think you need to fill the mine, but they came up with a plan to turn it into an amenity. It’s a great example of how you can renovate an industrial mine.”
Emily Weidner, a Bend resident who commutes to OSU in Corvallis, said she thought the “Rim” plan was the best option.
“I like the layout of the buildings, the landscaping, and the possibility to have a road up on the top,” she said.
Mike Brasfield, a Bend resident, resisted the university’s rebranding of the pumice mine, saying, “Let’s call it what it is — a gravel pit.”
“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.”
Brasfield was also very concerned about the impact not only of more drivers, but of the quality of those drivers.
“Have you ever seen how the students drive around here at the community college?” he asked. “It can get quite dangerous, especially with them tailgating in the roundabouts. And given how expensive it is to live in Bend, they’ll be driving into here from way out.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160