The $7 million Stivers Aquatic Center in Barbourville is now closed.
The Center’s Board of Directors announced the decision to close what is arguably Kentucky’s nicest, most modern aquatic facility Friday afternoon.
When asked about the closing, both Judge Executive J.M. Hall and Barbourville City Mayor David Thompson said they were not aware that board had decided to close the facility until told by the Mountain Advocate. “It’s been used by a lot of folks, but it’s had its struggles,” Thompson said.
After the closure Friday evening, the following statement was released from Stivers Center Board, signed by Chairman Randell Young:
“On Friday, Feb. 16, the board reluctantly voted to temporarily close the Stivers Aquatic and Wellness Center, due to a staffing difficulty. The goal of the Stivers Center has always been to provide a safe and supervised atmosphere. In light of the recent staffing issue, we feel it is best to suspend our activities. We apologize for the inconvenience during this time of transition. Members can rest assured that their membership will be fully honored upon reopening, with credit for the time lost. We are very excited about the coming transformation of the Center. We expect promising things upon the horizon.”
QUALIFIED MANAGEMENT NEEDED
Dee Dole, who has an extensive list of qualifications, has been managing the center for over 6 years. She presented her resignation to the board last week. An initial board plan was to have one of Dole’s assistants, Eric Musgrave, take over management duties. That fell through when he declined the job. Dole’s last day was Friday, February 16, the same day the board decided to close the center. Members of the board are Becky Miller, Nina Bingham, Dinky Phipps, Steve Hoskins, and Chairman Randell Young. All board members are unpaid volunteers.
Three birthday parties that were booked at the center for this past weekend were cancelled. “Children are the most important thing in our lives, so it’s understandable that some families were a bit upset with us,” Young said, adding, “they will get their money back.” Young also said, “Most of the Center staff lifeguards are younger, college-age adults. There are about a dozen lifeguards on staff. But, without experienced management on-site, or very nearby, the board felt there could be a serious liability issue.”
Also, several high school swim team coaches were upset and concerned with the short notice of the closure, especially during the final leg of the season. One coach, Kyle Yeager, expressed his frustrations on The Mountain Advocate’s Facebook page Friday night, posting: “My team has a contract till end of the month. How am I supposed to practice my team for the state meet now? And we already paid the full amount for the pool!”
As a result, even though the Board has officially closed the center, Young indicated that having an adult coach with each team might solve the management and liability issue. On Saturday, he said, “The closure of the center will not mean everything there will totally be shut down. We are going to keep the pumps and the chemicals for the pool functioning, and maintain the facility during the closure.
“We are working now with several high school swim teams, and Union College swim team. We are making arrangements so they can continue to have their teams practice at the center during the closure. We want to accommodate these teams, especially as they prepare for competition at the state level,” Young said.
NEW OWNERSHIP PLAN
Several months ago, Union College announced it’s intention to purchase the Center, and upgrade the facility. But, that plan was subject to final approval from the US Department of Agriculture, (USDA) of a USDA loan to Union for $750,000. Union College President Dr. Marcia Hawkins said on Friday that Clay McKnight from the USDA told her their money was already “set aside” and the loan closing would be “very soon.”
The other three organizations involved in developing the Center with Union: KCEOC, the City of Barbourville, and the Knox County Fiscal Court, all support Union’s proposal. KCEOC Board Chairman and Circuit Court Clerk Greg Helton, continued to express his support for that transition, saying, “I want people to use the Center even more than they use it now. I think it is a great thing for our community.”
Young also expressed hope for a fast, smooth transition to Union College ownership. “We are hopeful that Union’s USDA grant will get here soon. I think everyone involved is anxious to get this transferred to Union.”
Neither President Hawkins or Helton could confirm what, if any, impact the Stivers Center board’s decision to close the facility now will have. Especially, since Union does not yet own the center. Both were hopeful things would continue on as planned. “We have a team ready to go as soon as we close on the loan.” Union’s president said.