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Flooded Yes We Can Center prompts North Hempstead to focus on storm resiliency

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The "Yes We Can" Community Center, seen here on March 25, 2014, is located in Westbury at 141 Garden St. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

North Hempstead officials are renovating the Yes We Can Community Center that flooded during record August rains and focusing on more resilient infrastructure to protect it and other town property from future storm damage.

Replacing floors and making other repairs is expected to cost several hundred thousand dollars, town officials said.

Supervisor Judi Bosworth said that given the storm in August, disasters like superstorm Sandy and the potential for more frequent and more intense rains -- like this week's nor'easter -- the town has a sense of urgency about bolstering infrastructure and now considers development projects "with the eye toward making sure they are as resilient as possible."

The Aug. 13 storm that dumped as much as 13 inches of rain on some parts of Long Island flooded parts of the $26 million Yes We Can Center in New Cassel. Water entered the 2-year-old facility's lower level through a courtyard, causing a drain to clog with wood chips, said public works Commissioner Paul DiMaria.

Water pooled 18 inches high in some areas surrounding the community center, and rugs and Sheetrock were damaged and must be replaced, said town spokeswoman Carole Trottere.

"What happened was unfortunate," Bosworth said. "But it did point out some flaws we had to address."

The center "plays such an important role in the community, and to see this happening was devastating," she said.

Officials were already reviewing center operations after membership sales fell and revenue failed to meet projections in the facility's first year.

Flooding an inch deep reached under the floor of a dance studio, and into the 311 call center and parts of the emergency management center, Trottere said.

The studio's warped floor will be replaced and dance classes were moved to a stage upstairs in the gymnasium. The call center moved back to Town Hall in Manhasset, its previous headquarters, she said.

This week's heavy rains did not flood the community center, as officials protected the drain with bales of straw.

Meghan McPherson, assistant director of the Center for Health Innovation at Adelphi University, which is training town officials in emergency management and preparedness, said municipalities must not only prepare for the worst.

"We have to be prepared for the normal weather as well. . . . You're dealing with a different topography than you did before [superstorm] Sandy" that contributes to more frequent flooding.

A town-owned parking lot to be built in Port Washington will be sloped to manage runoff as deep as 5 inches, after initial plans called for 2 inches, Bosworth said.

DiMaria said The RBA Group, a New Jersey-based engineering company, will prepare bid documents for the repairs that will include renovating the Yes We Can courtyard and raising the sidewalk.

The company is to be paid no more than $48,600 for the work. Town officials also spent more than $4,000 to rent a crane to dig out mud and fans to dry the floor and rugs.

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