Bridges big as `a blue whale' to link three private schools

Two major city streets to be closed on weekend

January 04, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Weather permitting, twin 100-ton footbridges will be hoisted into place in North Baltimore this weekend, connecting three private schools and curbing the danger of students darting into heavy commuter traffic, city and school officials said.

City transportation officials said two major roads -- Northern Parkway tomorrow and Roland Avenue on Sunday -- will be closed to traffic for the intricate engineering efforts.

Three schools -- Roland Park Country School, Bryn Mawr School and Gilman School -- pooled funds to pay for the $3 million project to improve student safety. The institutions' upper schools share classes, and crossing the busy streets became a critical concern after a student was hit by a car on Northern Parkway several years ago.

Northern Parkway will be closed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow between Charles Street and Roland Avenue, city officials said.

Roland Avenue will be closed from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday between Deepdene Road and Northern Parkway.

Sidewalks on Northern Parkway and Roland Avenue will be closed when the streets are closed. Traffic officers will cover four major intersections each day to redirect traffic, officials said.

Traffic aside, the logistics of lifting and swinging a 200,000-pound steel, arched bridge with a 120-foot span into place to meet stone abutments on three school campuses are daunting. Two cranes will be required for each bridge, said the Bryn Mawr School's project manager, William J. Pickett.

"The whole operation will take a good long time," Pickett said. He said the bridges will be open to all walkers, but they will not be wheelchair-accessible.

After much consideration, officials decided to color the bridges a light gray-green with a satin finish, Pickett said. All three schools will require their students to use the bridges once the concrete approaches are completed in the spring, he added, with strict punishment for offenders. School officials said that for a second infraction, students would be subject to expulsion.

A city traffic engineer, Joseph David, likened the bridges to "the size of a blue whale, the largest living creature."

The bridges were assembled on-site, a method some architects and engineers said they had not seen before. More commonly, bridges are built piece by piece in the air instead of being assembled on the ground.

Brian Washburn of Henry H. Lewis Contractors, LLC, the contract manager, said the Northern Parkway bridge, currently on a Gilman parking lot, will be slowly rolled into the street. The other bridge, resting on Roland Avenue, will be gradually moved.

The Northern Parkway bridge will have 18 feet of clearance, while the Roland Avenue bridge will have 16 feet. The annual tax the schools will pay to the city for airspace is approximately $18,000.

Over some initial community objections, the city's design advisory panel approved the design.

Harold Davidov, co-owner of the Tuxedo Pharmacy on Roland Avenue, said: "I see an awful lot of traffic and speeding, so I generally think it's a good idea. ... Schools are the bedrock of the community."

Whether the project provides public access to the campus bridges is a point critics have raised in community meetings over the years. Some say it remains unresolved. Stephen A. Lauria, president of the Roland Park Civic League, said: "They missed an opportunity to build bridges with the community."

Lauria, an architect, called the steel-arch design "pedestrian" and at odds with the historical character of the neighborhood known for its rambling houses, porches and streets.

James A. Snead, an architect and Gilman board member who spearheaded the project, said the design is intended to be "structurally efficient, clean and crisp."

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