The long-awaited University of Wisconsin’s Nicholas Recreation Center is expected to open up to students early in the fall semester, according to updates from state and university officials.
According to UW Recreation and Wellbeing, the “Nick” was originally supposed to open January 2020. Delays arose from flooding, an extremely cold winter, issues with the pool tank, problems with the interior support structures, fire suppression issues, an issue with utility coordination and, of course, present obstacles related to COVID-19.
RecWell Associate Director of Member Experience Sadat Khan said UW put in place a plan for an elaborate recreation facility on the Southeast side of the UW campus based on UW student voting in 2013 and 2014 referendums.
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“Badgers at that time were making a decision for the future generations of students. They weren’t just doing this for themselves, but cared and believed that their experiences with health and well-being affected them enough that they wanted future Badgers to have the right facilities,” Khan said.
Communications Director of UW Facilities Planning and Management Steven Wagner said Wisconsin is heavily involved in the Nick project. According to Wagner, all large capital projects go through the state budgeting process and are managed at some level by the Department of Facilities Development and Management, which is part of the Department of Administration.
Due to the magnitude of the project, the UW System Board of Regents approved the construction expenditure for the Nick, according to Wagner. Replacing the previous Southeast Recreational Facility, the incoming recreational center provides a centralized facility fit for the growing UW student population.
“The 30,000 square feet of fitness in [the Nicholas Recreation Center] is more than all of the current fitness that we have on campus. When you add up the square feet at the Nat, Shell and Ogg, it is less than how much we have in the new Nick,” Khan said.
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According to Khan, in previous years, students went to multiple facilities that may not have all been adequate. The Nick will condense the features of RecWell into one place. According to RecWell, the project is part of a master plan that includes two indoor facilities and two outdoor field projects.
Interim Director of RecWell Mick Miyamoto said accessibility and opportunity drove the design of the new recreation facility. Miyamoto said RecWell wanted to make the Nick available and approachable for everyone on campus.
“The Nicholas Recreation Center is fully ADA compliant, contains private gender-neutral spaces in terms of restrooms and locker facilities and has been consciously constructed to be available and open to all students,” Miyamoto said. “We don’t want there to be barriers where someone doesn’t feel comfortable using the space.”
According to Miyamoto, UW will host several events to commemorate the Nicholas Recreation Center, its donors, as well as the student segregated fees of alumni who graduated and did not get to reap the benefits of the facility.
Miyamoto said the Nick is full of extensive exercise equipment and spaces that students did not have full access to in other recreation buildings across campus.
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“One thing that is very exciting for me personally, is the recreational track on the very top floor. As you run around the track you see views of Lake Monona on one side, the Capitol building around the corner, and around the next, you see Lake Mendota. It is just spectacular,” Miyamoto said.
As the Nicholas Recreation Center prepares for its opening, the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 procedures offer another hurdle in permitting students’ access to the facility.
The 50-foot pool floor requires installation from contractors in Denmark, who are presently unable to get into the United States, according to Miyamoto. Nonetheless, the Nick facility is still set to open Sept. 14, with all other features only modified, according to Miyamoto.
“Up until the most recent order from the county health officials, we were thinking that people could wear masks to the facility, but not wear them as they were exercising. We would have every other machine available, limit class sizes so that people can create distance and do everything we can to open and be available to students,” Miyamoto said.
According to Miyamoto, in addition to the completion of the Nicholas Recreation Center, the Natatorium on the other side of campus is beginning its own massive renovation, which is expected to open Spring 2023.
According to Miyamoto, the construction plans for the new Natatorium are set to include an indoor ice skating rink, eight courts, a running track, golf simulators, a “well-being suite” that will include massage, acupuncture, a meditation space, nap pods, a teaching kitchen with a nutritionist and even a healthy “shake shack.”
RecWell had many conversations with Ho-Chunk elders regarding ways to honor the sacred Ho-Chunk nation land that borders the Natatorium footprint. According to Miyamoto, RecWell is having many collaborative discussions on how to respect the Ho-Chunk space with different imagery, artwork and programming.
“Once we get these projects done, UW will have one of the best recreation facilities in the entire Big 10, if not the country,” Miyamoto said.