Belmont committee eyes Gale School as possible site for town library

BELMONT — Could the Gale School be used as a the town library?

The ad hoc Save the Gale School Committee thinks so, and last night two of its members broached the subject with the Shaker Regional School Board.

Conservation Commission member Ken Knowlton and former School Board Chair Pret Tuthill think the 119-year-old building, which has been idle since the 1980s, can be moved from its current spot behind the Belmont Middle School and placed on the empty lot on the corner of Memorial and School streets.

A recent evaluation by Omega Structural Engineers, PLLC said the building and, with the exception of its foundation, is sound. Tuthill said he knows it would need lead and possible asbestos remediation, but using it is still an option.

The recent study was paid for by the Save the Gale School fund.

According to Tuthill, the Library Trustees think the Belmont Library needs more room. He said there is "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in the Duffy Fund — a fund established in 1927 by Walter and George Duffy, who were the owners of the Belmont Hosiery Mill. The Duffys built the current library and donated 5,000 books to its initial collection.

Tuthill said until recently the Library Trustees were under the impression that the money could only be spent on the existing building, but he said he has since learned differently.

"It is our contention that the money is available," Tuthill said, noting the money left over from the 1927 project has "swollen to quite a bit of money."

He said Diane Marden of the Belmont Historical Society was making a similar presentation to the Belmont Library Trustees at their meeting last night.

Tuthill also said Shaker Regional Building and Grounds Director Doug Ellis got an estimate yesterday of $40,000 to tear down the Gale School — a number that doesn't include any lead paint or asbestos remediation.

"We could offer to buy it from you for and set it on our own foundation," Tuthill said, suggesting the school district could contribute the $40,000 to the move rather than spend it in demolition.

Tuthill said if the library doesn't want the old school, maybe the town would.

He also said that he and Knowlton think the town of Belmont is looking to use the Belmont Mill someday as town offices, a which point the senior center and the daycare center would need a new home.

Should the old Gale School be available and the library doesn't want it, Tuthill said those two uses could qualify the for some state or federal community development grants.

"Can you live with it on Concord Street and with public access?" asked Tuthill, saying he didn't expect an answer right away.

Nor did he get one. Shaker School Board Chair Heidi Hutchinson asked Ellis how current the estimate was to tear it down but after that, the board went on to its other business.

Library Trustee Chair Mary Louise Charnley said Marden made her presentation to the trustees last night.

She said they took no action, but plan to discuss the proposal in a future meeting.

"I don't know what we're going to do," Charnley said. "We're just digging through the paperwork."