Belmont’s Gale School takes a trip up the road to its new home

  • A Geddes building moving company employee inspects the undercarriage of the Gale School building before the move.

  • Onlookers watch as the Gale School building crosses Concord Street in Belmont during the move on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • A Geddes building moving company worker tightens a chain as the building is moved into place on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  •  The Gale School building passes over Concord Street in Belmont as onlookers take photos and video on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • An Eversource electrical worker takes down a power line so that the Gale School building can pass through on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bob Lord put up a sign for parking for those who wanted to watch the moving of the Gale School building from in front of his property on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Virginia Bowfill Hiltz watches the moving of the building wearing her Gale School T-shirt on Wednesday.

  • Bob Lord watches as the Gale School building is moved into place on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/22/2020 4:54:45 PM

Bob Lord has lived on Concord Street in Belmont for almost his entire life. On Wednesday, he got a new neighbor as the historic Gale School building was moved to its new home.

Although Wednesday’s move has been a dream come true for members of the Save Our Gale School preservation committee, for Lord, it brought up mixed feelings. Lord lived on the lot where the school was relocated until he was eight years old. “It’s been in the family a long time,” he said.

Lord attended fourth, fifth, and sixth grade in the Gale School building, a pivotal experience that he says jump-started his desire to learn. Last fall, Lord and his wife Lisa decided to donate the lot to the committee, bringing the decades-long dream within reach.

The building, which was originally constructed in 1894, has not been used by the Shaker Regional School District since 1997. Although Belmont residents have long supported preserving the building, moving it from its previous site behind Belmont Middle School had always been too expensive, until community members like Lord stepped in.

The school district originally accepted the Save Our Gale School Committee’s proposal to move and preserve the building in 2017. That summer, the district also agreed to give the committee the $71,000 earmarked for the building’s demolition costs to help with moving costs. Designations from the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, a $110,000 historic preservation grant from the New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, and the donation of many of the construction services all helped to finally make the project attainable.

The building officially changed hands Tuesday afternoon, when Save Our Gale School Committee members signed a bill of sale with the school district, purchasing the building for the mutually agreed-upon price of $1. The committee paid for the building with an authentic Morgan silver dollar from 1894, the same year the school was constructed. 

Diane Marden has been leading the effort to preserve the building for the past 35 years. On Wednesday, she watched with pride as the building carefully rolled across the street.

“This is a really big thing for the community,” she said of the crowd gathered to watch the move. “These people have come out and voted every year not to tear this down.”

A carefully conducted symphony of construction equipment worked to bring the building down a hill with a 17-percent grade hill, then moved the structure across Concord Street and into place on Wednesday morning. Following the move, the building will be restored and redeveloped by Lakes Region Community Developers, an affordable housing and community service provider from Laconia. The building will continue to serve students and their families, either as a child care and early education center or an elder care center. 

Virginia Banfill Hiltz is looking forward to the school returning to use after its move. Hiltz was a student in the Gale School building for six years and later returned to Belmont to teach there. She was still teaching in the newly constructed building when the school district announced they would be closing the Gale School. At the time, the closure seemed like the end of an era of both personal and community history for Hiltz. “It just broke my heart to see nothing being done for so long,” she said.

For Hiltz and others, the move served as a reunion of sorts, as longtime Belmont residents and former students and teachers gathered to watch history on the move. A sprinkling of rain didn’t deter onlookers as the Gale School began its slow move across the street.

Lord watched mainly from the yard of his current home, where he plans to commemorate his family’s history on Concord Street with a granite marker.

“It’s finally come full circle,” he said.

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