University of Wisconsin Opens Their 2nd New Pool in 3 Years

by Andrew Mering 9

April 26th, 2023 Big Ten, College

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.

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UW Alum
4 months ago

UW alum and current employee. This is such a great space. It is located on the west end of campus, between our Lakeshore Dorms and our Health Sciences Campus (the hospital, med school, nursing school). Yes, it replaced the Nat which was the ONLY competition pool we had. The SERF was on the other side of campus, and the Nic where the new competition pool is replaced it.The Nic is right next to the Kohl Center (hockey/basketball) and our South East dorms. The SERF had a long-course pool but no way could it hold meets, no seating anywhere! It was a practice only facility. No diving- our divers had to go to Brown Deer, WI (north of MKE) to practice.… Read more »

4 months ago

A lot of d3 teams would love to have this as their pool!

4 months ago

I swam at the old pool.
It’s amazing to see the university put funds to swimming, other schools have axed swimming programs due to high facility costs.

4 months ago

Not to be a pessimist, but I do not see a problem with this 2nd pool not being a competition pool. There is a nice full Aquatic Center as well. The one thing I do not know is how they are located geographically on campus (and if that could have an impact on recruits).
Before the Soderholm Aquatic Center was finished in 2020, did the school have more than 1 facility with a 50m pool (do they have less pool space now than pre-2020?

This is in response to the following part of the article:
The old facility was notorious for it’s lack of windows and air conditioning, making it difficult to use in the hotter parts of… Read more »

Reply to  Dan
4 months ago

I think this pool actually replaces their old rec center called SERF or something like that. It had a 50m pool but was not used for any competitions. So it kind of swapped- the intercollegiate athletics pool is now 50m and the rec center pool is 25 yards. I could be wrong though.

Reply to  tswum
4 months ago

The Soderholm Family Aquatic center replaced the old SERF pool in 2020. The Cove Pool (above) replaces the nat facility. There is no athletics funding in this new building and therefore no competition/recruitment needs. Soderholm is the home for UW Swimming and Dive.

Reply to  tswum
4 months ago

Soderholm replaced the SERF, and this pool replaces the Nat.

Phil McDade
Reply to  Binky
4 months ago

The biggest difference in this pool “swap” is seating. The old 25-yardNatatorium — as creaky as it was — had 1,500 seats, & when packed was a terrific atmosphere for meats. The new 50-meter Soderholm pool has 400 permanent seats, stretching over the entire length of the pool. (The university can add another 400-500 temporary seats via bleachers that sit on a mezzanine behind the permanent seats for meets such as B1G Conference meets.)

The Soderholm competition pool is a big upgrade over the old Nat, including a dedicated diving well with a platform tower. But it has about a third fewer seats — a factor in events such as the annual state high school swim meets moving elsewhere (and… Read more »

wally dobler
Reply to  Phil McDade
4 months ago

I wish someone at Mich State could see the value of saving lives and promoying health by having proper swim complexes right people doing the needed swim pools like they did in the 50s