Windber ballroom

Matt Grohal, Windber Municipal Authority director, stands inside the historic ballroom at Windber Recreation Park. Aug. 5, 2020.

Windber’s economic development committee secured $1 million in state funds to turn the 110-year-old dance hall into a year-round destination by adding a commercial kitchen, heating and air conditioning to the space.

Committee member and Borough Manager Jim Furmanchik delivered the announcement to council members Tuesday, saying the funds are projected to cover the entire cost to stabilize and adapt the wood-frame ballroom. 

“This is a real big deal,” he said. “People are drawn to venues like this – and I think this could have a huge impact on the community of Windber.”

The ballroom was built just outside the borough at Windber Recreation Park and has been a community gathering space since 1910, hosting dances, summer receptions and seasonal events when the weather is right. But while it’s open-air style is part of its charm, it has to be buttoned up for the winter when the weather turns cold.

Windber-area leaders have been eying renovations for more than a year.

Through the Windber Economic Development Committee, Johnstown-based CJL Engineering completed the $4,800 feasibility report on the venue over the summer, detailing ways to insulate and update the space without losing its unique, turn-of-the-century character.

“This could set up Windber for the next 100 years,” Councilman Joe Pallo said.

Updates needed

In a report released over the summer, CJL estimated the work needed to upgrade the ballroom would cost more than $800,000.

The firm’s engineers said the ballroom has held up well for its age, but desired structural updates will need to be paired with amenities aimed at making it an all-year draw.

That includes replacing the structure’s asphalt shingles and a list of updates to meet Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.

The study also recommended updating the building’s three small restrooms – and noted renovations to the building would also mean that a designated parking area would be a must.

Electrical system updates would be needed to add the commercial kitchen, while the ballroom’s vintage light fixtures – metal chandeliers included – could be adapted for modern LED lights.

But work can’t start yet.

Goals to meet

Detailed within a congratulatory letter from Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget office, Windber officials have a detailed list of tasks to complete before the money would be released – including the completion of a formal business plan.

Borough council members took steps Tuesday to form a project committee to ensure that every necessary step is completed to the state’s satisfaction.

The borough will have to hire a firm with expertise in completing a business plan by June, Furmanchik said.

And that too will cost money, he added.

But Council President Mike Bryan noted the borough needs to do what it takes.

“We’d be squandering a huge opportunity if we said goodbye to that grant,” Bryan said.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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