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Belmont's Gale School makes its historic move



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Last Wednesday morning, a large crowd watched as Belmont's historic 1894 Gale School was moved to its new location on Concord Street. Lakes Region Community Developers, will soon take over the building with plans to restore it then place it back in service to the community. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
July 30, 2020
BELMONT – From tiny tots to seniors, citizens of Belmont gathered last Wednesday, July 23, to watch as the historic Gale School was moved from its location behind the (now) middle school to its new home on Concord Street, where it will undergo renovations and continue to serve the community as it has for more than a century.

"I'm in shock. This has been a long time coming," said Save Our Gale School Chair Diane Marden.

For three decades, the district has had little to no use for the aging structure but was met with resistance at each annual district meeting when they proposed tearing the building down. Built in 1894, Gale School, with its iconic presence on a hill overlooking the village, has held a special place in the hearts and minds of residents though. Marden helped lead the charge to save the building back in the late '80s and was finally told a few years ago that the group could have the old elementary school for one dollar if they could move it off school district property.

Thirty years of deliberations and many years of drumming up donations finally culminated last Tuesday morning when the grassroots preservation group presented Shaker Regional School Board Chair Sean Embree with the one-dollar agreed upon price for the school. Vice Chair of the group, Ken Knowlton, said they surprised the district that day by paying off their debt with an 1894 Morgan silver dollar, minted the same year the Gale School was built.

"We gave it to them in a shadow box and they couldn't believe it at first because they expected us to pay them with 100 pennies," Knowlton said, "but they were thrilled to see what we actually did."

With the deal signed and sealed, it took the crew from Geddes Building Movers just 23 seconds last Tuesday to raise the building, already freed from the foundation, and turn it in the right direction. From there it was slowly eased down a temporary road built just for the move, then sat overnight on the north side of Concord Street.

Woody Fogg, acting as a spokesperson for the Save Our Gale School group, said he was amazed at how smoothly it all got underway.

"They got the building all lined up properly then brought it down the hill to wait for the utility companies to move lines today," Fogg said on Wednesday. "I couldn't believe how quick they did it all. They really knew what they were doing."

Earlier that morning, teams from Atlantic Broadband, Consolidated Communications and Eversource arrived to begin the task of lowering their lines and removing a pole to allow for the building to cross Concord Street. At approximately 11:40 a.m., the Geddes crew then began edging the structure across the street to its new home. In about 25 minutes, it was there.

"Geddes has been really amazing," said Fogg. "Twelve years ago, they gave us a price to move the school and when we told them we could finally do it this summer, they maintained the same price."

Geddes was not the only ones to chip in for the preservation of the Gale School. Eversource electrical company also contributed to the cause.

"We at Eversource love historical projects," their field representative said, "so we're donating all our time and labor today."

Fogg said their efforts on preserving the school ramped up last year when they received designation as a Seven to Save project from the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance. That gave the Gale School not only notoriety in the world of preservation, but credibility that attracted donors and helped find success in grant applications.

Working with Andrew Cushing, a field representative for the NHPA, the group was able to receive a $110,000 grant from LCHIP along with additional grants from the 1772 Foundation, the Bank of New Hampshire and Meredith Village Savings Bank, along with many other private donors. Fogg said Shaker Regional School District had also budgeted $71,000 to tear down the Gale School, so when the committee showed they could save it instead, the district then appropriated those funds as a "moving allowance."

Marden, Knowlton, Fogg and the rest of the group were also very grateful to Bob and Lisa Lord for their donation of the land on Concord Street and their many contributions toward saving the school.

"Bob Lord did so much. Besides donating the land, he did all the leg work in getting permission from other landowners to move the building to his property and make this all happen. He deserves a lot of the credit for this today," said Fogg.

More than 70 people gathered to watch as the old stick-built Victorian School was eased gently across the road, a few cheering as it progressed. Others quietly shared memories of their time at Gale School, which was closed in the late 1980's, or recounted stories they heard from parents and grandparents.

One local man spoke fondly of attending elementary classes at Gale School while his wife, also a life long resident of Belmont, said she felt the move was good, yet still a bit sad.

"It was strange last night to drive along Route 106 and not see the bell tower on the horizon, but I'm glad it's not being torn down," she said.

Also looking on as the final move was in progress, Marden said she was in a bit of shock to see the school building was finally being saved.

"This couldn't be better. We have a bit of work to do before we lower it onto the foundation, but then we'll be handing it over to Lakes Region Community Developers who will fully restore both the inside and outside, and hopefully it will live here in Belmont for another 125 years," she said.

Tentative plans are to create day care services for both seniors and children alike. Already part of the New Hampshire State Registry of Historic Places, Marden said their final act as the Save Our Gale School group will be to get it named to the national registry.

"This is just a wonderful day for our town," Marden said.

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