Bakke Recreation & Wellbeing Center to Open April 24

Photo taken from the second floor of the Bakke Center. Strength and Cardio equipment can be seen from the first floor up to the third floor.

Bakke Center is the second building project of the master plan and replaced the Natatorium built in 1963.

University Recreation & Wellbeing at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (Rec Well) will open the new Bakke Recreation & Wellbeing Center on April 24, 2023, at 11am.

“Opening Bakke is a significant milestone for overall health and wellbeing on campus,” Aaron Hobson, director of Rec Well, said. “This building marks the third project in our master plan, which is focused not only on building larger spaces to meet students’ needs but it is also about creating an inclusive movement that places holistic wellbeing at the center of our work.”

Bakke is named for lead donors Jim and Sue Bakke. Jim is a UW–Madison alumnus and president and CEO of Sub-Zero Group, Inc., a luxury appliance manufacturer founded in Madison in 1945. Sue is a 1977 graduate of Boston University in physical therapy. Bakke features spaces dedicated to supporting wellbeing services (such as the Wolf Teaching kitchen, restorative studios, and rooms for massage therapy, peer wellness coaching, and meditation), as well as a 25-yard recreational pool, eight multipurpose courts, Sub-Zero Ice Arena, a climbing and bouldering wall, sports simulators, multipurpose studios, an indoor jogging track, a rooftop fitness area, and over 29,000 square feet of fitness space.

The Adapted Fitness program, housed in the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology, has its new home at Bakke as well. Thanks to a generous gift from alumni Mike and Ginny Conway, along with support from campus, Adapted Fitness has 5,000 square feet of dedicated space in Bakke, enabling the program to expand beyond its current limits. Adapted Fitness personalizes physical activity programs to community members with a variety of disabilities.  It also provides academic coursework and service-learning opportunities for UW–Madison students to learn how to best serve these clients.

Located outside the northwest corner of Bakke is the Ho-Chunk Clan Circle — a space created in partnership with Ho-Chunk artist Ken Lewis and other advisors representing the 12 clans of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Since the Ho-Chunk people first began arriving in the region at least 12,000 years ago, they perfected the skills and technologies that have become the activities we recognize today as archery, canoeing, and snowshoeing, as well as team sports such as lacrosse. The Ho-Chunk Clan Circle was created as a reflection and educational space to honor this relationship and history.

UW–Madison occupies ancestral Ho-Chunk land, a place the Ho-Chunk call Teejop (Dejope, or Four Lakes). In an 1832 treaty, the Ho-Chunk Nation was forced to cede this territory. The Our Shared Future heritage marker at UW–Madison recognizes this history.

What to Expect on Day One

Members will be able to enjoy tours, use strength and cardio equipment, skate in the Sub-Zero Ice Arena, shoot hoops in the basketball courts, participate in open recreational offerings, or take a lap around the indoor running track. In addition, the first 250 members in the doors will receive a free 16-ounce Stanley water bottle. As well, any members who visit Bakke throughout the day will be entered to win a Charge 5 Fitbit sponsored by Grand Central apartments in Madison. There will also be additional giveaways and prizes throughout the building.

Group fitness classes and spaces such as the Wolf Teaching Kitchen, climbing and bouldering wall, sports simulators, pool, and additional programs will be open by fall 2023.

Memberships are available for affiliates to UW-Madison as well as the community.

Construction & Design

JP Cullen, a 110-year partner of UW–Madison, led the construction of Bakke with HOK and Kahler Slater as the architects on the project. “UW–Madison and Rec Well are continuing to raise the bar and therefore the experience for the Badgers whether students, faculty and staff, or community members,” shares Jeannie Cullen, a 2009 alum and co-president of JP Cullen. “The JP Cullen team was honored to be the builder of a space that will impact so many. As a Badger alumnus, I thank UW–Madison, Rec Well, State of Wisconsin Division of Facilities Development, and the Bakke family for their commitment to health and wellbeing.”

The Rec Well master plan passed in March 2014 with a record-breaking 87 percent of students voting in favor of the project. This included the construction of two new buildings, the first being the Nicholas Recreation Center (completed in 2020), and two outdoor fields, Near West Play Fields (completed in 2017) and Near East Play Fields (construction to start in fall 2023).

Students were central to the design of Bakke. Jackie Elliott and Allison Dentice, who both graduated in spring 2021, served on the core design team along with the architects and Rec Well staff. Elliot and Dentice’s advocacy influenced the design of the wellbeing suite, meditation rooms, peer wellness coaching rooms, restorative studios, Wolf Teaching Kitchen, sports simulators, and all-gender locker rooms.

“Throughout design and construction, the student-voice was honored when making decisions,” said Sadat Khan, senior associate director of facility planning and operations for Rec Well. Khan has managed the Bakke project and other master plan projects over the past eight years. “We chose a lot of finishes to not only be aesthetically pleasing, but also economical, and to be good stewards of students’ dollars. We wanted the space to feel inspiring and inclusive so that students would make us a regular part of their routines and improve both their belonging on campus and their own wellbeing.”