BELMONT — Selectmen were updated last week on an effort by a group of citizens to save the historic Gale School and urged the group to come up with some hard numbers for any plan it develops so that it can receive serious consideration.
''We've got to find a use for it which is beneficial to the town,'' acknowledged former School Board Chair Pret Tuthill, who, along with Ken Knowlton of the Conservation Commission, described the recent efforts of the ad hoc Save the Gale School Committee which they head up.
They said that this was a last ditch effort to save the building and Tuthill said ''if this effort fails it will be our last. The last thing we want to do is burden the taxpayers. We're looking for alternative sources of funding.''
Knowlton said that the building is historically significant and is in better condition than the Belmont Mill was when townspeople decided to save that building in the mid 1990s.
He said that when the town moves its offices into the mill in about five years the Day Care Center and Senior Center will have to move and that the Gale School could provide the space they will need. Or it could be used as a community center.
Knowlton said library trustees recently rejected a proposal to use the Gale School for an addition and that the school district doesn't want the building and has offered to contribute the cost of razing the structure to having it relocated.
He said the likely spot for its relocation would be on a school-owned lot on Concord Street.
Selectmen were sympathetic to the group's efforts to save the 119-year-old building, which is owned by the Shaker School District and sits on the shoulder of Bryant Field behind the Belmont Middle School, but unsure of how any effort to save it can proceed.
''Where is the money going to come from?'' asked Selectman Jon Pike, who suggested at one point that the chances for obtaining support for saving the building might be better at the annual Shaker School district meeting than at a Belmont town meeting.
''You'll get more financial support if it's a school project. If we get 50 people at a town meeting (deliberative session) we're lucky.'' said Pike.
That led Tuthill to point out ''it's not a Canterbury project'' and cast doubt on whether voters from that town would support any effort by the school district to save the building.
Knowlton and Tuthilll have suggested that funding for saving the building could come in the form of Community Development Block Grants, the same method used for saving the Belmont Mill, which led Selectmen Chairman Ron Cormier to say that one problem with getting grants was the question of ownership and whether or not a building which was going to be moved would be eligible for a grant.
''Which comes first, the relocation or the plan?'' asked Cormier.
Town Administrator Jean Beaudin said that she had just learned the night of the meeting that a joint application by the town and the school district could qualify for grant funding.
Linda Frawley of the Belmont Heritage Commission said that grants are available for the planning process for a project and that might be the starting point for developing a public-private partnership to save the building.
Selectman Ruth Mooney pointed out that the building ''has it's limitations,'' and is still basically an old school building with limited potential.
Tuthill said lightheartedly that if he could have his way he would tear down the current town hall and ''put it (the Gale School) right where the town hall is.''
He and Knowlton said they would keep selectmen informed about how plans for saving the building are progressing and would return with more details in the near future.