University of Wisconsin students looking to exercise at the Nicholas Recreation Center this winter are finding themselves waiting for upwards of 20 minutes in lines stretching nearly a block.

When students returned to the Nick for the spring semester, they found it difficult to identify any short wait times. UW freshman Shane Donohue said he struggled to find a time that fit into his tight schedule and had to wait up to 20 minutes outside to get in.

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“The wait in the cold is pretty brutal, especially when you’re just wearing shorts and a hoodie,” Donohue said. “I even varied the times at which I went to try to catch a short wait and all three times were still a long wait.”

The Nick opened in Sept. 2020 with adjustments to COVID-19 safety precautions including a 25% occupancy limit and mask and social distancing mandates. UW Recreation and Wellbeing also used a facility occupancy tracker to minimize wait times.

UW freshman Ava Petitjean said she used the Nick regularly in the fall semester and rarely encountered lines. Petitjean said she was shocked by a very long line when she went to the Nick on Tuesday around 7:00 a.m. Petitjean said she tried to go again later that night and still waited 15 minutes to enter.

UW freshman and Nick lifeguard Casey O’Hare said though reservation-based activity like the Soderholm Family Aquatic Center pool was less crowded, the long waiting time stopped her from using the Nick’s other workout spaces.

“When I swam laps, there wasn’t a line and the pool was pretty empty. I got my own lane,” O’Hare said. “The other time I went to the Nick, I didn’t even make it inside. I waited in line for a few minutes, but it barely moved and I was so cold that I just left and didn’t work out that day.”

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UW freshman Mac Dudkiewicz said a bus to the Shell, another UW recreation center, could help diverge crowds away from the Nick. Dudkiewicz said if there were better options for people in dorms to get to the Shell without having to walk in the cold, more people might use that facility.

Though Metro Route 80 runs through the Lakeshore and Southeast dorms and can drop off students close to the Shell, Petitjean and Donohue said they wanted to continue enjoying the Nick’s new equipment.

Petitjean said switching the Nick to an appointment-based system might help reduce wait times, similar to the Shell’s system. But, Donohue and Frehner said they worried about how long the time limits would be and who would be regulating the time slots.

 “[Time slots] are really hard to enforce,” O’Hare said. “The employees already have enough to worry about just by making sure the equipment is clean, so I don’t think they could also enforce the time restraint.”

Beginning Feb. 8, the Nick will only be available for people with the Badger Badge, a feature within the Safer Badgers app that shows proof of the individual’s negative COVID-19 test result. The Nick’s hours will also be expanding starting Feb. 8.