- Associated Press - Monday, April 1, 2019

BELMONT, N.H. (AP) - One big question about the future of the historic Gale School has been answered: What will happen after it gets picked up and moved.

Lakes Region Community Developers, an affordable housing organization in Laconia that is expanding its mission, has agreed to take ownership of the 125-year-old Belmont building after it finds a new home, giving it a new life.

“We were talking with them and agreed that it’s a really cool building and it would be such a cool thing if it could move to a more prominent location, (become) a beautiful building again,” said Carmen Lorentz, executive director of the Lakes Region Community Developers, formerly the Laconia Area Community Land Trust.

“Once you have site control you start to invest money in serious pre-development. We’re still pretty early on in that process, but there are ideas,” Lorentz said. “One use that has floated to the top is an early childhood education center, because we have a significant amount of unmet demand. There’s a gap of high-quality affordable child care in the area.”

This news will make it easier for Save Our Gale School to raise money, said Ken Knowlton, vice chairman of the volunteer group, who called it “a real shot in the arm.”

“We were asking for donations for a building and people would say, ‘Where are you going to move it?’ And we’d say, ‘We’re not sure.’ They’d say, ‘What’s going to go in it?’ We’d say, ‘We don’t know,’ ” said Knowlton. “That does not make for good feelings from somebody who might donate.”

It’s still not clear where the three-story building will be moved to. Knowlton said the group is looking at a trio of locations along Route 106, not too far from where the building sits behind Belmont Middle School.

The Gale School was a school of various kinds for almost a century until 1984. It has been empty since 1997, and has been the topic of continuous debate about its future.

In 2018, voters at the Shaker Regional School District annual meeting agreed to sell the building to the Gale School committee for $1.

The school was supposed to be picked up and moved by this coming August, but Knowlton said it unlikely to be moved before winter because the building will have to travel across a playing field with an irrigation system. The weight of the Gale School carried on a tractor-trailer would damage the underground pipes unless the ground is very frozen.

Save Our Gale School says it needs to raise about $100,000 more for the project, to go along with an LCHIP grant of $110,000, a few other gifts and grants, and $70,000 for moving the building approved by the school district. The extra money is needed for such things as preparing the new site and repairing the land where the Gale School currently sits after it moves.

As for the Lakes Region Community Developers, the plans for Gale School are part of an expanded mission under its new name. The organization has been helping develop affordable housing in the region for 25 years, but a year and a half ago it issued a new strategic plan, Lorentz said.

“We are going to diversify the kinds of real estate development we do. Not only affordable rental housing but single-family housing, affordable starter homes, and community facilities,” she said.

As an example, she pointed to 193 Court St., in Laconia, known locally as the Walters Market building, that the group will renovate to offices and a neighborhood center that can serve as a gathering place for residents at the organization’s scattered rental properties.


Online: https://bit.ly/2uEiQCw


Information from: Concord Monitor, http://www.concordmonitor.com

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