RSA Tower – Vital Statistics at Risk

The major tenant in the Tower was to be the Alabama Department of Public Health, a humongous State agency that was to occupy one-half of the available tenant space in the entire building.  Their space was reduced from 12 floors to 10 floors, but as a result of the business-like attitude of the Health Department, that adjustment and other factors in their relocation planning became almost routine.  To me, the only interesting part of this tenant relationship was the feud over the Health Department’s Bureau of Vital Statistics.

ALDPHIn the late 1980’s, the huge “State Office Building” on Dexter Avenue right in front of the Capitol, and now called the Lurleen Wallace Building, was scheduled for a complete renovation.  All the occupant agencies were moved out to facilitate the work.  The principal tenant at that time was the Health Department, which was relocated to the largely empty Normandale Shopping Center.  There the agency spread out into the old Loveman’s Department Store space, and its 700 employees had use of the vast parking area which formerly supported the shopping mall.

Also, at that time, all of the birth and death records maintained by the State of Alabama were centralized and maintained by the Health Department’s Bureau of Vital Statistics.  Theoretically, you could write to Montgomery to get an official copy of a record, but in actuality, service was so poor that you had to travel here to be successful.  Thus, from sunup to sundown on weekdays, the Health Department was constantly beset with scores of petitioners seeking a birth or death certificate, usually to support their entry onto the welfare or Medicaid rolls.  As you might guess, this sea of humanity was generally a ragtag element of our society and they would spill out onto the sidewalk at Normandale, leaving an unsightly residue of trash, spittle and abuse.

In 1992, when Dr. Bronner was offered the Department of Public Health as a tenant in his “crowning achievement”, he said, “Okay, but Vital Statistics must stay at Normandale.  I’ll not have all that trash wandering into my building.”  His mandate sort of put a damper on our planning for the agency because we had to understand where this mass of people would be accommodated.

At one point I suggested that we put that obnoxious Division in a separate building located on Monroe where the Pavilion Park wound up.  Bronner nixed that idea–I don’t think he even wanted those dregs of society in his renovated downtown.

Quite possibly this dilemma constituted a considerable part of the pressure which forced the Health Department to computerize its records between 1993 and 1996, as we were building the Tower.  When that was done and the overall move was consummated, a satellite link was established between the central data bank in the Tower and all the 67 County Health Departments.  Now you go to your local health department to get a vital record, and the county official there retrieves the data through the ether.  It’s a great system, one which affords the undesirable elements no excuse to foul Monroe and allow it to revert to its former status as the habitat of the ne’er-do-well.

All of the original hard-copy records of the State’s birth and death certificates, many of them priceless documents going back over 150 years, are now stored in the basement of the Tower.  From an earlier post, you know that the basement is threatened at each heavy downpour by Montgomery’s totally inadequate storm system and the propensity of Madison Avenue to flood.  Now you also know one more reason why I have this urge to dash downtown every time the tube flashes a warning of a dangerous thunderstorm.  At the very least, the storms are a threat to our ancient records.

-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)

This is one of many RSA Tower stories. The rest can be found here.

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