Charles Street span will bear name of man who built bridges in education

Mayor announces plans to dedicate structure to university president

January 22, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Just outside his office window, University of Baltimore President H. Mebane Turner can observe the building of the major city bridge that will be named for him.

It seems an apt image for a man who has tried to bridge gaps between city communities in public education for more than three decades, roughly framed by the riots of 1968 and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The $23.8 million bridge carrying Charles Street, one of the city's main arteries, over Amtrak mainline tracks and the Jones Falls Expressway, is to open in October or November, Amtrak officials said. It replaces one built in 1911 and is expected to last a century.

Mayor Martin O'Malley announced at a City Hall news conference last week that the concrete-and-steel bridge will honor the 72-year-old Turner, a respected figure on and beyond campus. Turner, nicknamed "Meb," thanked the mayor and City Council for the opportunity to be linked with "building bridges between the school and the community."

On Thursday, Turner, with other Baltimore educators, was named an honorary grand marshal of the city's Martin Luther King Jr. parade, which was held yesterday.

Turner's courtly manner and Southern accent, which tell of his Virginia roots, are part of his character, as are his three-piece suit and bow tie, the antiques and old Baltimore etchings in his office in the 1400 block of N. Charles St., and the thank-you notes he said he must write to university donors, elected officials and friends on this cold January day.

"Everybody likes to be thanked," he said.

But first, he walked to the deck of the partly completed bridge, near the train station, and looked over the expressway and at nine beams of steel that had just been delivered to the site. Soon, they will span the light rail track and seven mainline train tracks, Amtrak officials said.

Turner looked quizzically at the steel -- painted green, blue and lavender. A rainbow effect is the idea, he was told, as passenger trains travel along the Northeast Corridor.

Nodding, he smiled, as if a multicolored bridge was just what he had in mind.

A fixture on campus since his arrival as provost in 1968, the tumultuous year of riots and assassinations, Turner is retiring in June. He has been president for all but one of those years.

Michael Maher, the university's director of sponsored research, said Turner governs by building consensus and working toward his vision. Campus facilities have been steadily improved over the years and soon will include a student union on Mount Royal Avenue.

The university has 4,600 students, about evenly divided between undergraduates and graduates, Turner said. The average age is 31, with many attending night school.

Turner's wife, Eva, also an educator, is on the Gilman School staff. They have a 15-year-old son, Hal.

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