DuBose Conference Center in Monteagle, Tennessee has temporarily closed its doors as the pandemic dealt a blow to finances, according to officials.
The nonprofit facility affiliated with the Episcopal church has a history as a conference center that dates to the early-1950s with deeper roots in academics and religious studies going back to 1870.
"It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that DuBose Conference Center is temporarily pausing operations," according to a statement posted on social media May 18 and on the center's website. Until the pandemic, DuBose was Monteagle's largest employer.
"Decreased demand for camp and conference facilities, with the additional challenges that DuBose has faced during the pandemic, make this move necessary. Despite the efforts of our many loyal supporters, the DuBose Conference Center has continued to struggle financially as church groups and other meetings have not returned at prepandemic levels," the statement said. "The board has decided to cut back the operation by not booking new activities at this time and canceling some future activities."
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Monteagle Mayor Marilyn Rodman said the closure was a sad turn for the longtime Monteagle operation.
"I hate to hear it, and I hope it's not permanent," Rodman said Thursday in a phone interview.
She described DuBose as a longtime community asset.
"And it's a historical building, too, so I really do hope it is temporary," she said.
The phones still ring at the center but no one answers, and emails to most DuBose email accounts generate a return email with the same statement on the closure.
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Former DuBose guest services employee Dominic Gialdini worked at the facility from the end of April 2021 until mid-May when he and other staff members during a morning meeting with the vice president of the DuBose Board of Directors were told they were being laid off. Gialdini said five people in DuBose's Vista program were also present.
The Vista program - which bases its name on volunteers in service to America - is a partnership with the South Cumberland AmeriCorps Vista project to offer temporary, affordable accommodations to incoming members of the Vista team while they are serving in the Monteagle area, according to the DuBose website.
Gialdini - 25 and originally from San Carlos, California - has been critical of the shuttering of the facility in social media posts since the closure and said Friday in an email he felt compelled to make his complaints public. Gialdini contends employees and Vista program participants were told DuBose was being closed and sold.
"I felt little incentive to not speak out publicly because I saw their actions as grossly irresponsible and do not feel ethically compelled to help cover up the negative PR that they have brought upon themselves," Gialdini said. "I am discouraged that that board has been inconsistent with its messaging and wonder what a 'temporary pause' means if all but two future events are canceled."
Some of DuBose's most popular annual events are impacted, according to the board's initial statement.
"The temporary closure also includes canceling Camp Gailor-Maxon, scheduled for June," officials said. "After two years away, we had hoped and made plans to return to our home on the mountain, but registration for camp is lower than expected and budgeted."
DuBose board member Lauren Branson said she and her fellow board members are committed to finding the best path forward but want to stress the closure is temporary.
"We all have a significant spiritual and emotional attachment to this place," she said Friday in a phone interview.
Board President Shelton Clark said Friday in an emailed statement a total of 19 employees were laid off and seven Vista participants were asked to move but weren't kicked out. Closing Claiborne Hall, where Vista participants were traditionally housed, was financially necessary, Clark said.
"The Vistas were not evicted but asked to move to the Walker House, a home on the property that was unused at the time," he said. "We are working closely with the Vistas and their program coordinators to help make the transition as easy as possible and are committed to allowing the Vistas to stay on the property as long as is possible."
Clark maintains the closure, for now, is temporary.
"No sale or 'permanent' closure is imminent," he said. "The closure is temporary until we discern the best path forward for the property."
He said two already-planned events are still on tap.
"We are fulfilling our contract with Camp Caverns and reopening in order to host their camp in July," he said.
And the Episcopal Layman's Conference set for Aug. 19-21 is also going to take place as scheduled, he said.
Clark said the board couldn't discuss financial matters involving refunds of deposits by other groups planning visits.
"We have already begun the difficult task of reaching out to groups who have booked the space for future events to let them know that DuBose is temporarily closing and that the board is discerning the best path forward," he said. "They will receive more detailed information in the upcoming days and weeks."
Clark said the pandemic was an unexpected financial setback for DuBose.
"For years, the three dioceses of Tennessee have supported various youth programs operating from DuBose including Camp Gailor-Maxon and Winterfest," Clark said. "During the pandemic, several DuBose supporters and the board attempted to raise money to keep the doors open. Many long-time donors were making monthly contributions to the funds. It was, however, not enough to cover operating expenses."
DuBose officials will provide more information on the closure and plans going forward in the coming days, he said.
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.
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