Roland Park schools' footbridges still have to clear some hurdles

Some residents wary

city OK required

June 10, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Private schools are finding that building bridges in Roland Park isn't as much about stone and concrete as it is about constructing community consensus.

Trying to overcome mixed reviews from city officials and community residents, three private schools are forging ahead with plans to build footbridges over public space. The two spans would link their campuses and allow students to avoid traffic on Northern Parkway and Roland Avenue.

Safety is the paramount reason for planning footbridges from Gilman to Bryn Mawr and Roland Park Country schools, said school officials and parents concerned about a number of close calls.

"It wasn't a question of whether someone would get killed; it was a question of when someone would get killed," said Gilman Headmaster Arch Montgomery.

The bridges -- the estimated cost of which, $1.8 million, is to be shared by the schools -- have yet to win the approval of city officials or community associations. Design issues have alarmed residents in the North Baltimore community, which has been vocal about preserving its turn-of-the-century architecture and Olmsted Brothers landscaping.

If approved, the construction of the bridges could begin near the end of the year and be completed next spring.

In recent years, residents have challenged two other private footbridges, one that was built over Lake Avenue for Boys' Latin School and another built for Loyola College at Cold Spring Lane and North Charles Street.

Montgomery and other school officials said an accident involving a Bryn Mawr girl seriously injured by a car on Northern Parkway last winter galvanized them to press ahead on the long-discussed plan for bridges between the schools.

"That focused people's attention on the issue of risk," said Jean Hawley, projects manager at Bryn Mawr. "That's a three-way problem."

The three single-sex schools share classes for ninth- through 12th-graders, so students make hundreds of street crossings every weekday between the campuses.

The city's design advisory panel, which will review the latest plans today at City Hall, rejected the original plans last month, saying they expected more preliminary designs and preferred some specifications altered, including the use of stone supports.

Hawley said there is a shared goal of "preserving streetscapes. Everybody understands that."

Hazard not questioned

Critics and supporters generally agree that walking across Northern Parkway at Roland Avenue can be hazardous on the best of days. The schools employ three full-time crossing guards to direct students crossing the streets between classes.

Crossing guard Tonya Jupiter said she sees motor vehicles "running red lights all the time, and a child was hit up here." Gesturing at a car speeding through the intersection, she said, "There's one now."

Gilman sophomore Joshua Rowe said the bridges won't benefit only students. "Sometimes, if you're in a hurry, you streak across the street without really looking. I've heard the screech of brakes and people shouting. It would be better for motorists to have bridges."

The concrete bridge proposed for Northern Parkway would cross about 18 feet over the road, with a pier in the median, said David Powlen of the Towson firm Whitney, Bailey, Cox & Magnani, LLP, which is preparing the architectural drawings.

One neighborhood leader said many residents at recent meetings were not pleased to see the plans' liberal use of concrete. David Tufaro, president of the Roland Park Community Foundation, said, "A large number of us that feel that stone is a more appropriate material."

Montgomery said stone would cost a fortune and look "clunky."

The proposed Roland Avenue bridge, which would be near the Gilman headmaster's house, would be a light-colored concrete arch with gray stone abutments, in keeping with the stone wall bordering the Roland Country School campus across the street. It would be about 16 feet high, said Powlen. Construction could start this year and take about six months.

Community concerns

Some neighbors have reservations about both bridges' being based on the three campuses and removed from public walkways.

Hawley said, "They are not accessible from [public] sidewalks, because the beginning and ends are within each campus, but they are open to all."

Residents also have argued that the bridges should neither be lighted nor carry school identifications.

Anne Haley, vice president of the North Roland Park Improvement Association, said, "We'd like to see the bridges conform to the character of the community. Does it truly address the pedestrian problem? Are all people taken into account?"

Montgomery said talks with community groups are far from final. "Until they say, `This is a good idea,' it doesn't matter what anybody else says. The Civic League and others are going to have their say."

The headmaster predicted that school and neighborhood groups would eventually reach "a rough consensus with a few dissenters."

Contributing writer Ricky Beyer provided information for this article.

Pub Date: 6/10/99

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