The Columbus Government Center’s continuing deterioration was evidenced again last week when ceiling tiles fell outside a courtroom on the 10th floor.
Such mishaps like a virus have plagued downtown’s iconic tower and its east and west wings, afflicting it with pipe bursts, sewer leaks and mold, creating dangerous conditions for employees and visitors.
Authorities have taken drastic measures to deal with the 1971 building’s disrepair, but none so drastic as what they’ve decided the dire circumstances now merit:
Declaring the entire complex a hard-hat zone.
The courts and offices have nowhere else to go, so business will go on, as usual, except everyone has to wear a hard hat now.
Visitors cannot bring their own, because of security precautions: The headgear has to be inspected, declared safe, and issued by the city at a checkpoint in the east wing off Second Avenue.
Early tests of the new safety system revealed unforeseen challenges.
With so many workers and visitors daily coming and going, the supply of available hard hats soon was exhausted, so city officials had to scrounge for any protective headgear they could get, even requesting donations from local organizations that regularly use such equipment.
“We understand this is an imposition, but we have to improvise with the resources we have,” said a sheriff’s major wearing a Columbus Cottonmouths goalie’s helmet.
“The real challenge has been fitting the children whose parents bring them here,” he said through the face mask. “We’re lucky the city has so many bicycling enthusiasts with kids, or we’d never have the gear to cover all those tiny heads.”
The public has been more accepting of the change than some of the employees, he said.
“We’ve had a lot of complaints of ‘hat hair’ from workers,” he said. “I don’t know how guys these days get their hair all stacked up, but wearing a used fire helmet all day makes it look like grandma just dumped it out of a Jell-O mold.”
When the city’s call for donations went out, helmets poured in, including an eclectic mix of props from neighboring theaters and area sports teams.
“We wound up with a dizzying array of protective headgear, and that led to some issues we had not anticipated,” said an elderly court bailiff wearing a crested Trojan warrior’s helmet.
“Some of the old theater props and motorcycle helmets reminded people of World War II German soldiers. We had to quit using that style, because some people refused to wear it, and others got angry it didn’t come with a sidearm.”
Also rejected were the used whitewater helmets that outfitters chipped in.
“You should hear the complaints they got about those,” said a veteran defense attorney in a dented 2005 Columbus High baseball batter’s helmet. “My clients would get those and say, ‘Why does this smell like the river? Did it come from Property and Evidence?’”
Football helmets also proved problematic: Auburn fans would not wear red helmets; Alabama and Georgia fans wouldn’t wear blue ones; and prosecutors and defense attorneys committed face-mask fouls during heated closing arguments.
While acknowledging that “it is what it is,” city leaders said the situation can not go on as it is.
“We can’t keep foisting used helmets on people who already are outraged at getting $40 parking tickets out here on the street,” said a city administrator in a medieval knight’s plumed helmet from the last Springer theater production of the musical “Camelot.”
His helmet’s loose face shield slammed down. Metal grated as he pushed it back up.
He assured the public that starting today, April 1, the issue will be resolved, thanks to an emergency expenditure Columbus Council approved last week:
A vendor daily will supply enough new helmets to ensure each issued at the Government Center security checkpoint is a clean, standard, one size fits all hard hat with an adjustable headband and official “We Do Amazing” logo.
(Before you dust off an old bike helmet to visit the Government Center, keep in mind: This is Tim Chitwood’s annual April Fools column.)