Pumice mines and old landfills could make for an interesting architectural design and build of a new Oregon State University Cascades campus in Bend, Ore.

As school officials investigate the idea of expansion into 56 acres, with 46 of those acres a former pumice mine and 10 acres above the mine covered with pine trees, the idea of bringing in an extreme amount of fill to close the depths of 30 to 80 feet come with an alternative: embracing the elevation change.

Of the three design options floated for the possible redevelopment of the mine, the idea to leave the hole, call it a canyon and create some unique design space, all while eliminating cars from campus, represents a welcome plan.

To go with its nearby mine, a former landfill site may also turn into parking in the campus’ future. As the branch school moves toward four-year status by 2015, it will need more space, both for classrooms and to house students.

That leads us back into the pit. Not packing it full of earth requires a third less fill and actually offers some creative ways to spread academic and ancillary buildings out along the floor of the canyon. A team of three designers suggested clustering the bulk of the buildings to the north side of the mine in an effort to mine the sun’s rays. Student housing would situate nicely on the 10 acres on the mine’s rim.

Moving the buildings below also eliminates cars from the 46 acres—a welcome choice in campus planning—and would put a road along the rim of the mine. Elevators, stairs and other potential trail segments could tie the top to the bottom and intertwine the two spaces.

While still in the early stages of planning and design, reusing pit space could prove an academic endeavor after all. 

Tim Newcomb is Engineering News-Record’s Pacific Northwest contributor. He also writes for TIMEPopular MechanicsSports Illustrated and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb or visit his website here.