Laconia Citizen~Monday, October 16, 2006~Gale School

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 Saturday.

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 landmark.

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 Canterbury.

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.

The School 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 offer.

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 starting point."

"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 rest.

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."

Marden 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.

Among 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 Cozort.

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.

The building, despite some cosmetic challenges, is very sound, said Marden, adding that she got that assessment from a contractor who has experience in moving large structures.

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 registers.

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 museum.

"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.

Wallace 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 society.

"The building is certainly worth saving," Mitchell said, especially in a community like Belmont that has few visible reminders of its history.

One of those reminders, the Belmont Mill, has been saved and the historical society is working to save another, the Province Road Meeting House.

The Gale building, said Mitchell, "is the next piece of the pie that needs to be saved for the town's history."

John Koziol can be reached at 524-3800 ext. 5940 or at: