Schoolchildren and seniors alike remain barred from entering the Martin Luther King Center while the center and Long Beach officials try to resolve a number of safety and other issues that have kept the facility closed to the public since the coronavirus pandemic shut it down in March.
The center, on Riverside Boulevard, provides educational and recreational activities to children and adults year-round. But since the pandemic took hold six months ago, the public has not been allowed inside the building. The center, in conjunction with the Long Beach school district, still provides food to those in need, but it must be distributed outdoors.
Administrative workers are allowed inside, but are subject to temperature checks and must adhere to other pandemic safety regulations, such as sanitizing and social distancing.
In order to continue operating, the center must have a plan to control the spread of the coronavirus, and in order to maintain any contracts it has with Nassau County, it must have a physical location, which it has, but must get a green light for its Covid plan.
Long Beach officials said the plan is mandated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reopening protocols for buildings that serve the public in New York state. John McNally, executive assistant to Long Beach City Manager Donna Gayden, said this week that the center had recently forwarded a draft safety plan to the city, which officials were studying.
James Hodge, the chairman of the center’s board of directors, said that some 300 people of all ages had been using the facility during a typical week before the pandemic. They included children coming for tutoring programs, in which computers were available to them.
“I feel horrible,” Hodge said earlier this week. “I had to tell kids they couldn’t come into the center. I never had to tell kids that they couldn’t come in to do their homework. That’s how I did my homework, by coming to the center.”
“We’re very hopeful we can resolve these issues,” Hodge said. “Our goal is to work with whoever we can. The city has always been a major partner of ours.”
The center and the city are also working on getting the center a lease agreement. McNally said the center has not had a lease “at least” since the mid-1990s, and the facility has not been paying rent. Hodge said that its lease expired in the mid-’90s, and it has been trying to secure a new one. “We have vigorously tried to get a long-term lease, but it has never come to fruition,” he said. “They’re saying we haven’t been paying rent, but we don’t have a lease.”
Funding for the center from Nassau County, McNally said, is dependent on the center’s having a lease. “We approached them about a lease in late July,” he said.
The center, Hodge said, wants to confer with outside counsel before any further discussions with the city about a lease.
Kyle Rose-Louder, deputy Nassau County executive for youth services, wrote in an email that the county currently has a $180,000 youth services contract with the MLK Center. The county’s “standard practice,” Rose-Louder explained, is that youth-serving nonprofits “must have a physical location,” though that doesn’t necessarily require a lease. “The contract must demonstrate [a facility’s] ability to safely serve 100 youths in a physical location that they either own, rent or have been granted permission to be in,” she said.
The MLK Center has been beset by problems in the past few months. Long Beach and Nassau County building and fire officials found that an alarm system was not working and had to be repaired, forcing center employees to serve food outdoors. The system has since been fixed, but food distribution has been unable to move back inside because of the pandemic.