ATLANTIC CITY — Looking at the stage from inside Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall, you’d never know there are several floors of rooms behind it that overlook Pacific Avenue.
Access to the world’s largest pipe organ is off the corridors on those floors. On the other side are rooms where masonry walls and ceilings are dripping with peeling paint. Most of the rooms have been unused for decades in the National Historic Landmark that opened in 1929.
The city’s Board of Education may one day have free office space there, if the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority board votes to spend about $10.5 million on a $12.6 million project. It would renovate 25,000 square feet of space on the first, third, fourth and fifth floors. The school board would provide the other $2.1 million.
The CRDA runs the building along with the Atlantic City Convention Center.
That’s a per-square-foot cost of $480, typical of other work done in the building, said Austin Gerber of SOSH Architects, who would be the lead architect on the project.
A recent $10.4 million lobby renovation that will have its ribbon cutting 11 a.m. Tuesday covered 28,000 square feet, for a cost of $372 per square foot.
The move would save the board about $650,000 a year in rent, which is due to increase in two years, according to Atlantic City Superintendent of Schools Barry Caldwell.
CRDA Executive Director Matt Doherty has said the move would free up funds for the board to use to help the city’s youth with social and emotional learning and recreational programs.
The Jim Johnson transition report on Atlantic City stressed that there is a dearth of programming for city youth, who often live in stressful environments where they see violence on a regular basis.
The plan received preliminary approval of project eligibility at this month’s CRDA board meeting, but several members said they needed more information and two voted against it, saying they felt it was outside of the CRDA’s mission to promote the city and its tourism and business environment.
CRDA will have a public hearing where more details can be laid out, and questions answered at 10 a.m. Aug. 8.
Renovation would also bring life back into the neglected part of the structure. The performance and spectator areas underwent a major $90 million renovation in 2001.
“It’s a strong, old building,” Gerber said. “It needs to have occupants.”
“This will repopulate the area with people walking on the Boardwalk,” said CRDA Director of Project Implementation and Management Tom Meehan. “It will help the business district.”
The idea is to provide an open-floor-space design to accommodate the board’s 82 employees, Gerber said, rather than keep all the walls. Drop ceilings would be removed, creating a more open feeling, he said.
As they stood in a third-floor room, they looked at a bank of the tall, arched windows that look out to Pacific Avenue. “We will absolutely keep those windows,” Gerber said.
“They go right to the character of the building,” Meehan agreed.
On a facing wall sat linked stadium seats from the mid-20th century.
On another wall is a large set of metal pipes that were part of the original brine system used for making ice for hockey and figure skating shows, Gerber said.
Meehan said the renovation would take about 24 months from start to finish.
Caldwell said at the July CRDA meeting that the board must leave its current 18,000 square feet of office space at 1300 Atlantic Ave. It has an understanding with the landlord there it will leave in about two years, and if it does not leave then will face drastically higher rents than the $650,000 a year it now pays, he said.