The new Bakke Recreation and Wellbeing Center is currently under construction and expected to be completed by 2023.
In August 2020, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Natatorium closed down for demolition and construction of a new facility. It had been open since the 1960s.
Construction for the new Natatorium began in the spring of 2021. It will be over three times the size of the previous facility with a total budget of $113.2 million, according to the university. The budget comes from student segregated fees, gifts and the School of Education.
“The School of Education, particularly the Kinesiology program, formerly had a significant presence in the old Nat,” Sadat Khan, senior associate director of facility planning and operations of UW-Madison Recreation and Wellbeing, told the Daily Cardinal. “As part of the Bakke Recreation and Wellbeing Center, they funded nearly 5,000 square feet to include space for the Adapted Fitness program which accommodates participants with permanent and temporary disabilities.”
Jim and Sue Bakke provided the gift of $20 million to support the construction of the new facility. They also funded several other areas of campus throughout the years, including scholarships, fellowships in the Wisconsin School of Business, contributions to athletics and more, according to the news release.
“We were inspired by the vision of a facility that could expand upon the incredible resource the Nicholas Recreation Center has come to be,” Jim Bakke said in a statement. “We believe it is vital to support the mental and physical health of both UW students and the wider community.”
Students can expect “square footage for wellbeing services (including spaces to support mental health), a 25-yard recreational pool, eight basketball courts, an ice sheet, expanded fitness areas, multipurpose studios and an indoor jogging track,” according to UW-Madison Recreation and Wellbeing. There will also be gender-neutral showers and locker areas.
“We don’t like seeing students standing in line waiting for a treadmill, bench press or being put on a waitlist for an intramural league,” Khan said. “We also knew that the Nick wasn’t the final piece to the puzzle and couldn’t solve the need on its own.”
“An entire 270,000 square foot facility (that has different and unique amenities that the Nick doesn’t have) is on its way to help support these challenges,” continued Khan.
The Bakke Recreation and Wellbeing Center will be located near Lake Mendota and the Lakeshore Path to give students living in that area a recreational building in closer proximity, according to UW-Madison Recreation and Wellbeing.
“There is a need for a space to anchor recreational opportunities on the lakeshore side of campus. The Nick, which opened in September of 2020, is a great sign of what is to come and expect, but it is clear that the second building is needed to handle the number of users we see and the programs we offer,” Khan explained.
According to UW News, the building is located near Native effigy mounds. To acknowledge and celebrate over 12,000 years of human habitation and the tradition of recreational activities, campus leaders partnered with the Ho-Chunk Nation and artist Ken Lewis to design a sculpture that will stand near the facility.
UW-Madison Recreation and Wellbeing explained how they used feedback from small group conversations with various student organizations for ideas while designing the facility.
There was also a campus-wide survey sent out in the spring of 2019 where UW Recreation and Wellbeing received over 1,200 responses. Students expressed features they wanted to be included in the facility. UW Recreation and Wellbeing is also working closely with ASM and other student organizations for feedback. On the core design team of the building, two UW-Madison students represent UW Recreation and Wellbeing.
While the Natatorium is under construction, UW Recreation and Wellbeing encourages students to partake in activities at the Nicholas Recreation Center, the Shell and the Nielsen Tennis Stadium. The Kinesiology department also temporarily relocated to the Medical Science Center.
There is a livestream camera that students can use to see the progress of the facility. The Bakke Recreation and Wellbeing Center is one of four UW Recreation and Wellbeing master plan projects, along with the Near West Fields, Nicholas Recreation Center and Near East Fields. The Near West Fields and Nicholas Recreation Center have already been completed. Construction of the Near East Fields will begin after the completion of the Bakke Recreation and Wellbeing center.
Ellie Bourdo is the features editor for The Daily Cardinal. Ellie previously served as associate news editor, where she specialized in breaking news and University of Wisconsin-System news reporting. She also works at WisPolitics. Follow Ellie on Twitter at @elliebourdo.