ATLANTIC CITY - State and federal authorities will adapt the New Jersey National Guard Armory as a center for youth indoor sports and classes, Attorney General Anne Milgram announced Thursday.

By this time next year, Milgram told a crowd in the 80-year-old armory's main hall Thursday morning, the floor will be covered with an indoor track and soccer field, and several of the armory offices will be adapted for nonathletic activities.

The project will cost about $2.9 million, Milgram said:

$1 million from the National Guard, $1 million from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and $900,000 from the state's coffers of drug offenders' fines. It's part of the state's Strategy for Safe Streets and Neighborhoods program.

"What this will do is give the community a center and give children opportunities that otherwise would not exist," the attorney general said.

Bob Hurley attested to that. The longtime high school basketball coach in Jersey City described the benefit of a similar renovation in that city.

About 500 children a day, some from six nearby housing projects, fill a repurposed building to play basketball and volleyball, run track and cheerlead, Hurley said.

State Sen. James Whelan, an Atlantic City teacher, told the dozens of children in attendance, "You can no longer use the excuse, when you get in trouble, that nobody cares."

Atlantic Cape Community College will schedule and oversee activities, while the National Guard will be in charge of maintenance. Most uses will be free, Milgram said, although events such as track meets could carry nominal fees that would be applied to maintenance.

Atlantic City High School track coach Tim O'Donnell would love to schedule indoor meets at the armory.

"We've heard inklings of this (plan) for 25 years," O'Donnell said. His team runs in about eight meets a season, none closer than Toms River, or Haverford College outside Philadelphia.

"There's a million basketball courts," said O'Donnell. "Let's get one indoor track."

The guard will still conduct training two weekends a month, and its vehicles will be able to drive over the track and field surface without causing damage, officials said.

"I can't wait to see you here in a year," Milgram said, joking that she would race Sen. Bill Gormley on the track.

After she cautioned listeners not to gamble on the result, Whelan piped up, "We do allow betting in Atlantic City - we're trying to get sports betting, too."

Contact Eric Scott Campbell:

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