Belmont selectmen decline to sponsor block grant for study of Gale School

BELMONT — Selectmen last night unanimously opposed being the sponsor of a federal community development block grant that would pay for a feasibility study for the Gale School.

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin told the selectmen she had spoken to Shaker Regional School District Superintendent Maria Dreyer and the private Save the Gale School Committee about sponsoring a possible U.S.D.A. Community Development Block Grant for $12,000, but said she needed selectmen's approval.

"How can we asked for a grant for a building we don't own?" asked Selectman Jon Pike.

Beaudin explained that a school district can't apply for a CDBG grant, but a municipality can. She said the town would only be a sponsor, but would not fill out the application and she was only acting as a conduit between the School District the CDBG.

The town doesn't own the Gale School. It is owned by the Shaker Regional School District and is on School District property. Built about 120 years ago, there has been a movement afoot to relocate the school to a corner lot near the Belmont Middle and Elementary School campus.

According to a letter sent to the town on Aug. 16, 2013, and made public at a Shaker Regional School Board meeting, the Gale School is eligible for the National Register, a determination made in 1985.

The letter said the Gale School "was listed ... as an important Colonial Revival-style building in the town. Many of these resources have irreplaceable architectural detail and historic import to the town."

In 1977, the Shaker District built Belmont Elementary School and relegated the Gale School to be used for cold storage.

Selectmen contended last night that while there have been a number of attempts to find the money to save the old school or possibly relocate it, there has never been any hint of evidence that the School District would spend the money needed to restore or relocate it.

"We don't own it, we don't see a use, and the town isn't willing (to spend any money on it)," said Selectman Ron Cormier who is the selectman's representative to the Heritage Commission, and is at odds with its other members who want to find a way to preserve the building.

He said he would support some kind of effort to save the bell tower and incorporate it into something in the village area. Others, including some members of the Shaker School Board and selectmen have, echoed this sentiment.

Cormier also said there have already been a number of feasibility studies done on the school and for selectmen to sanction another one by sponsoring a federal grant would be a "wild goose chase."

"Eventually, if we keep dragging it on maybe the building will collapse into itself," he said.

Selectmen's Chair Ruth Mooney said that if the School District is so interested in saving the school then they need to do the work.

Pike agreed, saying that if the town sponsors the grant it will be "sticking its neck out" and possible be on the hook for the entire restoration, especially since the Save the Gale School is private and its members can "walk away at any time."

"I'm not in favor of having a public hearing," said Mooney, referring back to Beaudin's original request. Pike and Cormier agreed.

"Just because a building is old, it doesn't need to be saved," Cormier said.