Shaker board delays vote on Gale School until asbestos costs are known

BELMONT — The Shaker School Board delayed taking action on the possible demolition of the historic, now abandoned Gale School Tuesday until after Building and Grounds Manager Doug Ellis gets the final costs for asbestos removal.

The demolition of the school and the preservation of the bell and steeple would go on a warrant article at the district meeting for voter approval.

The school building is located on a perch behind the Middle School, at the edge of Bryant Field.

Ellis said Tuesday he has budgeted $65,000 — $42,500 for the demolition and $15,000 for preserving the bell and the steeple. He also factored in $7,500 for contingency and said the school will do the landscaping itself.

The $65,000 doesn't include preserving, moving or storing the bell or the steeple said Ellis.

The plan now is to preserve the bell and steeple, but at Tuesday's meeting Belmont Board member Richy Bryant said he wasn't willing to support a warrant article to demolish the school unless there was a solid plan for how they will preserve and store the bell and the steeple.

"What do we do with a steeple and a bell?" he asked. "Have we talked to the historical people?"

Bryant also wanted to know how much it would cost to store the steeple and where it would be stored.

Belmont member Donna Cilley noted the Heritage Commission opposes the demolition of the school but she suggested the school district made a formal outreach to the commission to see if it is interested in the bell and the steeple.

Business Administrator Deb Thompson said there is $5,000 in a trust to preserve the school it its entirely and she would have to ask the N.H. Department of Revenue and Administration if it's possible to re-purpose the trust so the money can be used to preserve the steeple and bell.

Superintendent Maria Dreyer said that theoretically, a land mark from a previous school would be incorporated into the next school that is build. There are no plans for building any schools in the district in the foreseeable future.

The Gale School was built in 1894 and was later named for the same Laconia banker — Napoleon B. Gale — whose name is on the city's public library. His will instructed that $10,000 of his estate was to be donated to the Town of Belmont. Gale represented Belmont in the state legislature in 1868-69.
By the mid 1950s, the school was being used only for administrative office space and its rooms were further relegated to use only for cold storage when the new elementary school opened in 1985.
The demolition of the Gale School has been a hot-button topic in Belmont for years. The Save the Gale School Committee — a non-governmental association of people in Belmont who don't want the school demolished — has repeatedly come up with suggestions to save the school but, to date, no one has come up with the money to do anything.

Additionally, efforts to relocate the school to a different piece of property have never been realized because there has never been a viable option for a relocation site.

While nearly all of the desire to save the school comes from Belmont residents, the school belongs to the Shaker Regional School District that educates students from Belmont and Canterbury. In the past, Canterbury School Board members have said that they do not want to see the school destroyed, but they don't see their community's tax dollars being spent to save it.

Ellis said he would get answers to the steeple and bell moving and storage questions and report back to the board in time for the meeting Monday morning.

The School Board is having a meeting at 10 a.m. Monday to vote on the final budget, which may or may not include full-day kindergarten, and to vote on whether or not to add a warrant article for the demolition of the school.

12th hour dilemma for Shaker kinderarten & pre-K

BELMONT — Parents and Shaker Regional School Board members learned Tuesday night that adding full-day kindergarten and half-day pre-school program could add as much as $480,000 to the proposed 2015-2016 school district budget.

The costs include two additional teachers, additional buses, and a two, used modular units for classroom space and Superintendent Maria Dreyer said they were "guestimates" at this point.

Dreyer pointed out that the school board and the administration did a "great deal of listening" at an information public information session held earlier this month and learned that parents want full-day kindergarten as opposed to the planned half-day kindergarten and half-day pre-school programs incorporated into one version of the 2015 budget.

Parents packed the Middle School media center Tuesday evening to show support for full-day kindergarten.

Of the four who spoke, seemingly for the rest of the crowd, three were teachers.

Lisa Tucker said kindergarten today is like first grade was when she was in school and with half-day kindergarten only, children lose nine hours of instructional time weekly.

She agreed that pre-kindergarten programs were a "great thing," but said only providing a half a day of kindergarten was a "disservice" to the children.

"They're missing all of the afternoon time," Tucker said.

Parent Lisa Ober, a teacher for 15 years, said there are too many "transitions" with half-day kindergarten. Transitions means a child is home, then in kindergarten for 2 1/2 hours, then in some kind of transportation, then daycare, and then back home again.

She said full-day kindergarten eliminates many of those transitions that she believe can be too many adjustments for a 5-year-old to process.

The problems with implementing full-day kindergarten in Shaker Regional in 2015 in the two elementary schools are multi-faceted.

The first is space. While there is room for full-day kindergarten at Canterbury Elementary School, Dreyer said at Tuesday's meeting, there is not room in Belmont Elementary.

There is a "bubble", or unusually high number of students, in the second and third grades and Dreyer's original two-year plan called for implementing pre-kindergarten in 2015 and working toward full-day kindergarten as the "bubble" moves through elementary school, freeing up much needed space.

Additionally, because of the number of students taking the bus, Dreyer said two additional buses would be needed to accommodate approximately 80 additional students in the afternoon run. The cost of the two additional buses would eat up any potential savings for eliminating the mid-day run.

In Canterbury, there would be some savings because no additional buses would be needed and the mid-day run could be eliminated.

To accommodate the space challenges at Belmont Elementary, the school would need to site a two-classroom modular for two years and rearrange a number of programs and classrooms so that the older children would likely be in the modular. The modular would also cost the school the basketball court which would be needed for parking.

The second issue is political. School Board member Donna Cilley of Belmont said she feels like the school district is treating the full-day kindergarten issue as an "emergency" when it really isn't.

She said the district was reacting to the parents, which is good, but that the district already has a two-year plan and that Dreyer's newest plan for both was a 12th-hour reaction without a solid picture.

"Here we are at the 12th hour talking about a very important program," Cilley said. "It needs to be done right."

Canterbury School Board member Bob Reed said the issue is an emergency for parents. "All these years parents have been thinking they're getting all day-kindergarten and we drop the bomb on them for pre-k," he said.

The third issue is money. Dreyer's two-year plan that called for a half-day of pre-school and a half-day of kindergarten was not going to cost the school district any additional money in 2015. As it stands now, the proposed budget was slightly less than the $21-million total budget approved by voters last year.

To implement full-day kindergarten and half-day of pre-school the cost is "guestimated" to be about $480,000. To implement full-day kindergarten and eliminate the pre-kindergarten program would cost about $90,000 less, said Dreyer when asked.

The School Board was slated to vote on a final proposed budget for 2015 Tuesday but made a unanimous decision to hold a special meeting Monday at 10 a.m. for a final vote on the budget.

Before adjourning, the School Board instructed Dreyer to develop more solid numbers and design programs that would incorporate pre-k, full-day kindergarten and a combination of the two.

Monday is a holiday, however the meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. in the SAU Building.

Proposal for investigation of county government gets little support

LACONIA — A Belmont legislator's call for an investigation of Belknap County government received little support at Monday night's meeting of the Belknap County Convention.

Two-term Rep. Michael Sylvia called for an investigation by the convention, citing what he said were violations of state statutes by former commissioners and county officials and suggesting that the investigation would help determine whether or not ''people have benefited from misappropriated money.''
''Maybe there's nothing out there. We know that lawyers have benefited greatly,'' said the Republican in asking the convention to consider creating an investigative committee.

He cited RSA 24:17 which authorizes county conventions to appoint a committee "to investigate conditions pertaining to the conduct of county affairs by any county officer or person appointed or employed by such officer." The law specifies that the committee, convened by a majority vote, consist of no more than five members, not more than three of any one of the parties, and empowers it to summon witnesses, take sworn testimony and "do other necessary acts to conduct such an investigation."

Among the issues which Sylvia said should be considered included the failure of the former county commissioners to conduct jail inspections every six months for a period of three years, which he said was a violation of state law, adding that ''sweeping it under the rug is difficult for me.''

He also pointed to RSA 24:15, which provides that ''no county commissioner, or elected or appointed county officer, shall pay, or agree to pay, or incur any liability for the payment of, any sum of money for which the county convention has made no appropriation, or in excess of any appropriation so made except for the payment of judgments rendered against the county.''

Sylvia asked ''where did the money go?'' and also questioned whether or not the county should have utilized a health trust rebate to offset 2014 health insurance costs.

Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) said that he wanted to set the record straight on some of Sylvia's charges and noted ''there's no missing money evidence in all the things we're looking at. The money may have been used for other purposes, but there is no missing money.''

He also questioned the wisdom of embarking on an investigation, pointing out that the investigation would have to be conducted by the convention. ''There's no money for it and we would have to hire an attorney,'' said Tilton.

RSA-18, which covers expenses of an investigation by the convention reads: ''The county convention shall appropriate a certain sum for expenses for any committee established pursuant to RSA 24:17. The reasonable expenses of such investigation shall be paid by the county when approved by a judge of the superior court.''

Rep. Brian Gallagher (R-Sanbornton) said that a call for an investigation was premature, noting that there was going to be an annual audit conducted of county finances and that the convention would deal with any issues which were raised by the audit.

During a public comment segment of the meeting Meredith, resident Paula Trombi asked if any Sylvia had any proof of his allegations and said that his statements were ''inflammatory. There are things you shouldn't say publicly unless you have proof.''

It was not the first time that Rep. Sylvia has called for an investigation of the county. In March of 2013, when he was in his first term, he called for creating a committee to investigate county government, maintaining the convention had a duty ''to oversee the operations of the county.''

At that time it drew a rebuke from Tilton, who explained "our duty is to appropriate funds, not oversee. The commissioners oversee county operations. We are the legislative body and the commission is the executive body."
Earlier in that 2013 legislative session, Sylvia was critical of fellow legislators on his Facebook page after the House voted by a majority of 196 to 153 to reinstate the prohibition against carrying firearms in the chamber, anteroom and gallery of the House.

"I'll look forward to seeing the roll call on the final adoption of the rule. It seems clear to me that many legislators, and I suspect some Republicans, are happy to violate the New Hampshire Constitution. I call this treason but I'm a radical. Legislation coming from a treasonous body is invalid and a violation of Law. And there ends working together, I will not be supporting criminals even though they call themselves 'Honorable'," Sylvia wrote.

The House recently voted to lift the ban in the current legislative session with all members of the Belknap County delegation who were present voting to lift the ban.