By Tyler Leeds

The Bulletin

Ponderosa pines, some likely near 150 years old, dominate the 10-acre site on Bend’s west side where Oregon State University-Cascades Campus plans to expand into a four-year university. To foster the feel of an authentic Central Oregon landscape, the university plans to embrace the land’s roughly 400 trees and topography in its campus design.

OSU-Cascades hopes the four-year campus will serve up to 1,900 students, 300 of whom will live in on-campus residence halls. The campus, which will include academic, research, cafeteria and commercial space, is slated for a fall 2015 opening. The proposed plans call for four large buildings running east to west from the site’s border with Southwest Century Drive and two smaller buildings facing Chandler Avenue.

“What we did is look at not only where trees are, but where they are not, in order to understand where best to place the parking and buildings,” said Michael Zilis, a principal and landscape architect with Walker Macy, a Portland-based firm in charge of the site’s landscaping. “In the back, there’s this flattened, beaten up place, likely used for industry at one point. There are no trees there, and it’s just a great spot to place parking because of all that.”

Another feature that guided the campus design is what Zilis described on Wednesday as “a thick wedge of beautiful trees” that rise on a small hill along Southwest Chandler Avenue.

“It will provide frontage for the campus, and clearly sends the OSU message of environmental stewardship,” Zilis said. “Having it between most of the buildings and the street also helps us build while still embracing the outdoor character of Bend.”

A building dedicated to academic space is placed in a clearing to the site’s far west edge, which not only helps minimize the reduction in trees, but also offers views of the Cascades. Despite deferring to the site’s geography, trees will still have to come down. Zilis estimates that about half the trees, many of which are too young to be distinguished from the undergrowth, will be cut.

However, Zilis said there are discussions to use the trees on campus as architectural features or as mulch, so what’s cut down remains on the site.

While some deciduous trees will be added for an aesthetic contrast, notably as a small grove in a plaza area, Zilis said the landscaping plan for undeveloped space is to “basically leave it all untouched.”

“You won’t be seeing a whole lot of fertilizer or irrigation running through here,” he said. “We’ll let the pine needles fall and build up, like it is now.”

However, for this to work, the health of the trees has to be promoted and protected as construction crews start working on the site.

“The biggest threat to the trees is mechanical damage to limbs or trunks and soil compaction, which can destroy roots” said Ian Smith, an arborist with Simply Arbor Tree Care hired by the university to assess the health of the trees. “What’s important is implementing protection measures way before a tractor even rolls onto the site.”

Smith said that layering 4 inches of mulch under the drip line of trees is an effective way to make sure their roots are protected from massive wheels. Another technique is to wrap construction netting around delicate areas, so crews know to stay away.

Upon arriving at the site, Smith was surprised by the health of the trees, and the fact that wildfire fuels reduction work had already been performed, with plants clearly thinned throughout the acreage.

“We don’t know the history of the work, but the old stumps of cleared trees are clearly visible throughout the space,” he said.

The spacing of the trees as well as the mixture of ages and sizes all work in favor of the site’s health, Smith said. Additionally, no signs of pine bark beetle or sequoia pitch moth, which can devastate pines, were found on any of the trees.

“We’re hoping to show that in an urban environment, you can have a healthy mix of development and stewardship,” Smith said.

Another surprise was the relative absence of trash on the site. Walking through the area with Zilis and Smith, the only visible debris in the undergrowth of bitterbrush and wax currant were a tire, a plastic soda cup and some cement bricks.

“We do not plan on leaving the tire untouched,” Zilis joked.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160,