University of Wisconsin-Madison
bakke rec

New recreation center opens at University of Wisconsin-Madison

April 25, 2023
The $113 million Bakke Recreation and Wellbeing Center replaces the former natatorium on the Madison campus.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has opened a $113 million campus recreation facility.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the Bakke Recreation and Wellbeing Center replaces the former Natatorium, which opened in 1963 and more resembled a windowless warehouse than a fitness center.

At 29,000 square feet, Bakke is more than five times the size of the original Natatorium and about two-and-a-half times the size of the renovated Natatorium. 

In addition to typical fitness amenities--weightlifting equipment and cardio machines lining the walls--Bakke has a teaching kitchen, an eight-lane swimming pool, a rock-climbing wall and eight basketball courts.

Bakke is expected to be used by about 50 sports clubs and clock about 1 million visits a year, said Sadat Khan, senior associate director of facility planning and operations for the Recreation and Wellbeing department.

Bakke is the third piece of a four-part decadelong revival of UW-Madison’s recreation facilities.

The Near West Playfields were first to get a facelift, with lines painted for sports including flag football, baseball and softball. The Nicholas Recreation Center opened in 2020 with basketball courts, an indoor track and pools. Reconstruction of the Near East Playfields into turf fields is expected to begin this summer.

The new facility has air conditioning, which the natatorium lacked.

Changing rooms aren’t separated by gender, but instead have rows of lockers with individual changing rooms, restrooms and showers, giving privacy to all students.

The center has been named for alumnus donor Jim Bakke and his wife, Sue, who provided the lead private gift of $20 million for the project.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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