Center still embroiled in debt controversy

While the Stivers Aquatic and Wellness Center reports nearly 30,000 visits annually by members and other groups, it has often struggled financially.

The initial business plan called for the center to have paid off all of its obligations by now. But one day before Union’s planned purchase of the center, nearly $1 million in debts involving the center still exist.

Why is there still so much unpaid debt? Stivers Center Board Chairman Randell Young says several initial plans to raise money simply did not “pan out.” He cites examples like using the center’s therapy pool to earn revenue. Even the popular pool party rentals have not made the amount of money hoped for. But by far, the biggest expense of the center is the cost to heat the pool. The first plan was to get all the energy to heat the pool from the gas well located on the center’s city-donated property. That too, just “Did not pan out,” Young said. While the on-site gas well helps, Young says the well only supplies “about 25-35% of the gas required.”  Board records state the center’s operations lost approximately $258,000” in 2017.

Now, with Union buying the center, some items will definitely be paid. Other obligations owed by the center, however, have caused some concern and controversy.  In fact, some of the debt may be more than Union’s USDA loan can cover.

The Controversy

For example, potentially up to $490,024 may be owed to KCEOC.

The Stivers Center official minutes state the board was presented an invoice last November dated November 18, 2017. The invoice was made to Knox Partners from KCEOC.  The invoice listed more than 400 items, totaling $490,024.57. Individual items on the invoice went all the way back to September 30, 2011, covering a six-year time period up to October 27, 2017.   The minutes state, “There was some concern” by board members that many of these items had not been approved, or at least not in a more timely fashion.

Additionally, sometime after that board meeting, Paul Dole, the Chief Executive Officer and President of KCEOC, went to Union College President, Marcia Hawkins.  Hawkins says she and Dole discussed the center finances, including a loan Union “agreed to cover,” for $250,000, plus interest, that KCEOC secured to help Knox Partners get the center started. But, Hawkins says Dole also informed her KCEOC was owed over $140,000 more. He told her this was for maintenance work KCEOC had performed at the Stivers Center.

Hawkins was also “shocked” when Paul Dole informed her that his wife, Dee Dole, former manager of the Stivers Center, was personally owed nearly $100,000. Hawkins says Dole explained that was because Dee Dole had long deferred taking her salary to help the center pay its bills.

Union’s President said she was unaware of either of these alleged debts. This is even though the college has a representative, Union Collge Vice-President Steve Hoskins, on the Stivers Center Board. She noted that Union has been making regular contributions for many years to help cover payroll at the center.   

The Explanation

The Mountain Advocate received an email response from Paul Dole after requesting the Stivers Board provide information about the situation:

“Per your request to Randel about any personal financial dealings with me and Dee they are as follows.

Dee is owed $97,000 in back contract payments (It is recorded in the financial records).  She has personally purchased concessions to be sold at the Center with no reimbursement ( has spent thousands to do so)  She paid for the flooring in the party room (over $2,000).  She has paid for countless repairs and supplies with no reimbursement.   She has spent thousands each year to try and keep the center going.  

I have also purchased some concession supplies with no reimbursement plus I have paid for some repair items.  I also have had $100 a month donated from my checking account to the Center for about 3 years

That is the only personal financial transactions with the center.”

Board financial records confirm Dole’s $100 monthly donation.

In addition, it is no secret that Dee Dole and her husband have both devoted significant amounts of “volunteer” time to the center.

Paul Dole has been very active in events at the Stivers Center. He earned KHSAA certifications to serve as an official for swim meets, and has worked “countless hours as a volunteer, putting in long, hard days” at the center, says Randell Young, Chairman of the Stivers Center Board.

Mayor David Thompson agreed, saying “The center would not be open today if not for Paul and Dee Dole’s efforts.”

The Plan

So, despite the controversy, Union has proceeded to purchase the center. Hawkins explained the college intends to completely pay off the debt owed to Community Ventures Corporation, (CVC), the agency that pulled together the complex financing to build the center. Stivers Board minutes show, as of May 12, 2017, CVC was due $326,741.

Plus, the college plans to pay KCEOC the amount required to pay off the $250,000 loan, and all accumulated interest, that KCEOC made to Knox Partners to initially help fund the center. That loan balance is now well in excess of $300,000. In addition, she says Union will pay all legal fees involved in completing the complex legal transaction of transferring the facility to college ownership. That will take up nearly all the money from Union’s USDA loan.

But, it would not address the unpaid salary owed to Dee Dole and all of the repairs for which KCEOC invoiced the center.

The Gift

Given all this, Union President Hawkins approached her board again. She says her main goal was to make sure all salaries owed were paid.  Also, Union wanted to help the Stivers Center with any expenses associated with the ownership transfer of the center. So, Hawkins announced that Union College intends to make a “One time gift to the Stivers Center Board of $150,000.” This is “above and beyond” the $750,000 in funds Union is securing through the USDA loan.  What happens to the remaining debt is not clear.

But, if all goes as planned, on Thursday afternoon, Union College and the Stivers Center Board will sign a purchase agreement. Then the college will own, and begin plans to improve and expand the facility.