The $95 million Bakke Recreation Center at the University of Wisconsin Madison officially opened it’s doors on Monday (Update – while reported elsewhere that the facility cost $85 million or $113 million, Sarah Barnes, a University representative reached out to say it was $95 million). The recreation center includes an 8 lane, 25 yard lap pool. The facility also includes a year round indoor ice rink, 8 basketball courts, a jogging track, 29,000 square feet of fitness space, and multipurpose rooms.
The new rec center is the university’s replacement for the old Natatorium, the long time competition pool for the university team and the site of the Wisconsin high school state meet for 55 years from 1966 to 2020. The high school state meet moved to Waukesha South High School in 2021 when the Natatorium was torn down to make way for construction of the new recreation center. The university team now competes at the new Soderholm Aquatic Center.
The old facility was notorious for its lack of windows and air conditioning, making it difficult to use in the hotter parts of the year.
The old pool had a diving well, blocks, and a huge quantity of seating, none of which is included at the new pool. It’s hard to imagine much competition happening there (also the school refers to it as a “recreational pool” and called the old one a “competition pool”). Instead, meets will be confined to the Soderholm Aquatic Center. Swimswam did a tour of that facility when it hosted Big 10 championships last year which you can view here.
The opening of this facility is the third step in the university’s master plan to refurbish their student recreational facilities. The other two completed steps are the already mentioned Nicholas Recreation center (which contains the Soderholm Aquatic Center), and the Near West fields, which were converted to artificial turf and had lights added. The next and final phase of the university’s plan is to make similar changes to the Near East athletic fields which is schedule to break ground this fall.
Another interesting feature of the new rec center is its gender neutral locker room called “The People Changing Room,” a name coined by former UW-Madison Dean of Students Mary Rouse in the 1970s in a fight for women’s access to previously men’s only athletic facilities (the old Natatorium was originally a men’s only facility). The locker room will have rows of lockers and individual private changing rooms, showers, and restrooms.