Laconia Citizen~Monday, October 16, 2006~Gale
Historic Belmont school gets cleanup
Mike Colclough/Citizen Photo
Looking more like the Bates Motel (of Hollywood fame) than the schoolhouse it
once was, the abandoned Gale School in Belmont enjoyed a cleanup on
BELMONT — The Gale School Building got its triennial cleaning on Saturday,
thanks to a mixed group of volunteers, most of whom are also firmly committed to
finding a long-term solution to preserving the 112-year-old
Built in 1894, the building is named after Napoleon Bonaparte
Gale who, upon his death in 1898, bequeathed $10,000 to the town of Belmont,
with a portion of that money ultimately used to retire the municipal debt on the
structure which now bears his name.
In use as a school until 1985, the
Gale building has served as a cold-storage repository since then for the Shaker
Regional School District which comprises the towns of Belmont and
The Shaker Regional School Board, which organized Saturday's
cleanup, is concerned about the danger of fire because of the Gale building's
proximity to Belmont Middle School, which sits below it on a slope that descends
to School Street. The board also is looking at the possibility of building a bus
loop around the middle school, the Gale building and the School District office,
which is in a separate building north of the middle school.
The board is
working with the Save Our Gale School Committee on how ownership of the building
might be transferred from the school district to the Belmont Historical Society,
a nonprofit entity of which the committee is a subsidiary.
Board's land and buildings committee is scheduled to meet with an architect on
Monday, Oct. 23, to discuss what can be done with the Gale School, while, on
Oct. 24, Diane Marden, a member of the Save Our Gale School Committee, will meet
with the full historical society to see whether it would be willing to acquire
the Gale for a nominal sum — probably $1 — should the school district make the
Marden said there has been talk of relocating the Gale to another
property not far from its current home, but she added that, at this point, it
was just that: talk.
Saturday's cleanup, she said, was to make the Gale
"look better" and, despite the unknowns surrounding the building, "it's a
"It's in the school district's hands now," said Marden
as volunteers swept and vacuumed the Gale building, salvaging what they been
could have been its years upon years of academic memories and pitching the
Sharon Ciampi who, like Marden and fellow committee member Helen
Corriveau also attended school in the Gale building, said the presence of the
volunteers on Saturday should show the school district that "there are people
who care about this building and are not just going to let it go."
admitted, however, that the effort to save the Gale building is going to be "a
long haul" and money is definitely an issue.
A 2001 facilities report
estimated that it would cost $850,000 to convert the building into the school
district offices — a significant amount in a community where voters at the 2007
Town Meeting will likely be asked to support a $2 million request to build a new
Belmont police station.
School Superintendent Mike Cozort who, with
Building and Grounds Director Doug Ellis, was removing old desks from a
second-floor classroom, said the School Board has been adamant that, whatever
happens to the Gale building, it not remain on its current site.
the concerns, he said, is "how do we put a million dollars into this" while also
looking to make improvements at Belmont High School?
"They'd like to see
it [the Gale building] saved, just not at school district expense," said
Corriveau would like the Gale to stay "where it is" but if the
only way to save it is to move it, then that is all right with her.
building, despite some cosmetic challenges, is very sound, said Marden, adding
that she got that assessment from a contractor who has experience in moving
Nonetheless, Corriveau would prefer that it stays put
because "this is where it originated" and its location makes the Gale building
eligible for both the national and New Hampshire historical
The "worst-case scenario" which was floated in the 1990s —
that the Gale building would fall victim to the wrecking ball — has been "taken
off the table as far as the School Board's concerned," said Corriveau, adding
that she and other committee members would like the Gale to remain under the
auspices, if not the ownership, of the Shaker Regional School District and that
it be used partially for the district offices and partially as a
"It's our heritage; let's hang on to it," Corriveau said. She
took comfort from the fact that there seems to be a bright future for the Gale
building, even if that future is not exactly clear right now.
Rhodes, Belmont's unofficial historian, said there is a groundswell of interest
in preserving the Gale because "so many people went to school here. They just
don't want to see it gone."
Ron Mitchell, chair of the Belmont Budget
Committee, does not want to see the Gale gone, either, but, at this point in
time, "it's hard to ask taxpayers to pay" for work to the building when it is
not owned by the town or situated on municipal property.
"It's up to the
School Board, the school district" to decide the fate of the Gale building, said
Mitchell, including whether ownership should be transferred to the historical
"The building is certainly worth saving," Mitchell said,
especially in a community like Belmont that has few visible reminders of its
One of those reminders, the Belmont Mill, has been saved and the
historical society is working to save another, the Province Road Meeting
The Gale building, said Mitchell, "is the next piece of the pie
that needs to be saved for the town's history."
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