Gainesville’s Martin Luther King Jr. Multipurpose Center will serve as a hurricane shelter in 2018.

The shelter will be available to all Alachua County residents and will be renovated with a $200k grant from the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

District 1 City Commissioner Charles Goston reached out to Alachua County and the City of Gainesville about a year ago to discuss his concerns about the hurricane shelter on the east side of Gainesville, said Chip Skinner, an assistant public information officer for Gainesville.

“Residents of the east side of Gainesville have been limited in the number of shelters that are available during an emergency,” Goston said.

The ease of use and location were the main concerns for finding a new hurricane shelter, Skinner said.

He said the county usually has to wait for approval from the school board to open shelters because nine out of the 11 current shelters are schools. With the center, they don’t need approval.

“With it not being involved with the school board, it’s much easier for us to open that as a shelter,” Skinner said. “If we need to shelter additional people, it’s not affecting a school, for instance.”

He said Alachua County and Gainesville do not have a contractor for renovations yet because they have to do an engineering study first.

He said the engineering study will help Gainesville and Alachua County determine if the renovations they’ve proposed are needed. These include window screens, hardened doorways, electrical work and minor structural improvements.

The final cost of the project will not be determined until an engineering study is complete, with work to begin shortly after, Skinner said.

He said once renovations are complete, the facility will be available for wind-related emergencies and as a post-storm shelter.

Alachua County determines when the shelters open, Skinner said. The changes will bring the building into compliance with FDEM and Federal Emergency Management Agency standards.

He said Alachua County and Gainesville do not currently have plans to open more hurricane shelters.

“I am happy that my advocacy on behalf of our citizens contributed to the city receiving this state award to harden the Martin Luther King Jr. center for use in emergencies, so that citizens in District 1 will have another close-by option for a safe haven,” Goston said.