Solar panels are added to the roof of the Martin...

Solar panels are added to the roof of the Martin Luther King Center in Long Beach. Credit: Johnny Milano

The Martin Luther King Center in Long Beach — a beacon of shelter during superstorm Sandy — has been upgraded into a solar-powered hub for the community.

Long Beach officials unveiled the addition of new solar panels to the 36-year-old building’s roof and a new electrical system days before the Oct. 29 anniversary of the storm that flooded the city from ocean and bay five years ago.

The center, commonly known as the MLK Center, has been reworked with indoor LED lighting and 51 15-kilowatt solar panels installed by the Long Beach-based EmPower Solar, the California-based nonprofit Global Green, and National Grid. The work took place over the past two years.

“The MLK Center has served as a place of comfort and home to those dramatically affected by the storms,” City Councilwoman Chumi Diamond said of the Riverside Boulevard facility. With the changes, it will remain so and “minimize our global footprint,” she said.

The solar panels will provide 20 percent of the center’s power and will be backed up with a new battery system for emergency power during a grid outage, officials said, adding the change is expected to save the city $3,000 annually in power costs. The battery can serve the center for one day without sunlight and recharge with solar power.

Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman cited other improvements undertaken at the center, including rebuilding the gym, kitchen and roof. Additionally, the community center’s boiler system was elevated on a concrete base above the level that floodwaters reached during Sandy.

“The MLK Center has shown what a model of resiliency looks like,” Schnirman said last week. “This is a resilient shelter for refuge in the event of future storms. This is an important milestone for our city.”

Solar panels are added to the roof of the Martin...

Solar panels are added to the roof of the Martin Luther King Center in Long Beach. Credit: Martin Luther King Center

Other improvements include repairing drywall, stairwells, elevators, the gym floor, steel exterior walls damaged by wind, office space and three classrooms using federal funds. City Council members approved $125,000 in capital fund spending to replace the roof.

Additionally, the Nassau County District Attorney’s office donated new computers for a lab for in the center to launch a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and arts program.

The city this week is to resurface parking lots and add a hazard mitigation plan to protect the building from future storms, a city spokesman said.

MLK Center board chairman James Hodge cited National Grid for backing the lighting and solar panels, just as they had sponsored food and fixed gas during Sandy. The MLK Center was among several projects covered by $20 million in downstate funding by National Grid and Global Green.

“As natural disasters happen, we look at how we came together and what can the city and community do,” Hodge said. “Sandy devastated a whole lot, but it helped us to come together. We’re stronger now because of what we’ve been through.”

The city’s push for solar didn’t stop with the center. Long Beach officials also have fast-tracked all permits for solar panels and waived permit fees for anyone installing solar conversion projects in the city, Councilman Anthony Eramo said.

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