5 Reasons why the new SERF is very good news.


Yes, the SERF is coming down.  Scheduled to begin in July 2017, the Southeast recreational facility is going to be decommissioned.  That means that the deconstruction and demolition process will begin.  Once complete, the site will be readied for new construction and the new facility will be built on the same site with an anticipated opening of Spring 2020.  We estimate that campus will be without the Southeast Recreational facility for nearly two full years while the new facility is built.  The lack of facilities will be a minor inconvenience for some and a major shift in daily routine for others.  It is well worth the wait.  Here’s why:

1) Students voted.  87% of students want new facilities.  In March 2014, the student government body of UW-Madison, ASM, voted to pass the referendum that would provide part of the funding for the Rec Sports Master Plan, a $236M plan to improve all of the major facilities that serve the University.  The referendum passed with an incredible 87% of students voting in favor of increased segregated fees for students to help fund the new facilities.  The 2014 referendum vote also had a huge turnout, 14,000 students- compare that to the 4,500 students who voted in Spring 2016.

If you need a reminder why students showed up en masse or why we need new facilities you may want to take a look at this video from the 2014 referendum campaign.  Although the video contains a bit of drama and humor, the point it makes is true: The SERF is [still] overcrowded and in disrepair. The new SERF is being engineered to be welcoming, inclusive, efficient, functional, and an effective use of students’ money.


2)  Effective use of students’ money.  We did our homework before we decided to build a brand new facility. Renovating the existing facility would cost more with less of an impact.  Renovating the SERF would mean taking the existing facility and modernizing it within the confines of its outdated, aging infrastructure.  It would mean attempting to improve its mechanical components, use of space, and structure.  In its current state, the SERF suffers from gym closures due to humidity, equipment & structural deficiencies, overcrowding, and a losing battle for maintenance.  It is very difficult and expensive to maintain and operate the SERF efficiently.  During the planning process, it was decided that doubling down on facility problems of that caliber would be a mistake. The new SERF is utilizing high quality, cost-saving engineering to maximize the impact of every dollar spent, while maintaining the highest level of operation.


3) The Union South Effect.  Union South is a central hub for the UW campus.  That wasn’t always the case, but now that we have a beautiful, state-of-the-art, engaging, and functional Union South- it is nearly impossible to imagine campus without it.  Prospective students and parents are awed and excited by it- not by the building- by its energy and the feel of its environment. Union South is a source of pride, showcasing the art, culture, and climate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The new SERF will shape our campus in ways that we cannot yet imagine.  Its wonderfully open spaces will entice new users, the massive additions to fitness and training equipment will nearly eliminate waiting, the accessibility of all of the spaces and programs will increase recreational participation, leading to a healthier, happier, more balanced campus.  The building of a larger facility with more space, programs, and equipment isn’t superfluous- it is an absolute necessity.  Badgers need spaces and programs to help them de-stress, stay healthy, and remain active members of the academic community.


4) The original SERF was designed for a different era; the new SERF is being designed to serve Future Badgers for decades.  The SERF was built in 1982-83 at the very end of Brutalist architecture’s popularity.  Brutalist architecture was used on college campuses across the United States throughout the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s.  The designs use sharp edges, reinforced concrete, and a pronounced ‘fortress’ feel.  The buildings were popular because they were considered en vogue at the time (not because brutalist structures on college campuses were built to dissuade student riots).    Although the motivation behind the original SERF’s design is not particularly dubious, the design remains inaccessible, unwelcoming, and an incredibly inefficient use of space due to its complex, corridor-ridden layout.

By building a new facility we are able to consider every detail: programming, events, open-concepts, and the needs of the students.  The new SERF will have accommodations which reflect precisely what the students and members asked for.  Here are just five of the many things to look forward to in the new facility:

  •  More fitness space:  Five-times more. This is our members’ number one request by far.  No more 30-minute waits for treadmills.
  • Five multi-purpose studios:  Currently, there is only one studio serving the users of the SERF.  We recognized the need for more studios to allow our incredible Fitness programs to shine and to provide space for clubs and student organizations.
  • Natural lighting:  No more ‘dungeon’ feel.  Lots of windows and both natural light and beautiful campus views from the interior.
  • Competition pool with diving tower:  Intercollegiate Athletics, community swim groups, instructional classes, and recreational swimmers will benefit from our newly designed pool facility.
  • Inspiration:   The new SERF is being designed with community wellness as the cornerstone.  We are creating a facility that is not only beautiful, welcoming, and accessible- it is inspiring.


5) The Golden age of UW-Madison.  UW Madison is a world class university.  World Class.  It is important that our recreational facilities are, themselves, world-class.  Union South, Grainger Hall, the Kohl Center, the Law Building, the Discovery Building, Microbial Sciences Building, the Wisconsin Energy Institute, Nancy Nicholas Hall, and many incredible residence halls all contribute to the campus experience both functionally and aesthetically.  These buildings and facilities attract better students, better staff, facilitate better research, and create a more complete academic community.

The high caliber recreational facilities of the Master Plan will reflect more than our commitment to wellness, community, and academic success.  It will reflect Wisconsin’s forward progress.  We, as Badgers, don’t settle for good enough- we strive, struggle, and press forward to improve ourselves so that we may improve our world.  The Golden Age of UW-Madison is here because we are building it.  Always Forward.

-University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Recreational Sports


17 thoughts on “5 Reasons why the new SERF is very good news.

    1. We have just installed air conditioning in the Nat Weight Room, where we’ll be transferring over the SERF weight equipment on August 21. Additionally, Ogg Hall Fitness Center, expected to open August 28, will have air conditioning. Please let us know if you have any other questions!

    1. The new “SERF” is not expected to include a climbing wall. However, there is currently a climbing wall on campus at Union South!

  1. What temporary facilities will be put in place for the current students during the construction? The current students will need opportunities to “de-stress, stay happy and healthy”. I understand progress is necessary, but am concerned with the facilities, or lack thereof, that will offer amenities for those students who incorporate daily fitness as part of their healthy lifestyle. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

    1. We completely agree, and are working on plans to accommodate students and our equipment during construction. We will be moving fitness equipment to Phillips Lounge in Ogg Hall, which is able to accommodate 60% of the SERF’s current fitness equipment. We are also investigating other areas on campus that students can use as well. Stay tuned!

  2. When road projects are started, detours are mapped out. Contingencies are put in place to minimize disruption. It seems nothing is being done here to minimize the huge disruption many, many, many students will face due to this quarter billion dollar project.

    At least aerobic machines should be placed in other buildings on campus in the meantime. That will mean some discomfort for some departments, but not total closure of them like the serf.

    It is time to get to work on the contingency plan. The lack of one is not acceptable for a world class university. If one is not possible due to lack of motivation and imagination, students should have their segregated fees reduced or eliminated during construction to allow them to invest in private alternatives. After all, this is not a one month closure. This is for years. Many students will only have access to a recreation facility for only one year while at UW.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Bob. We agree with you and have been discussing a plan for alternative facilities on campus. At the moment, we have secured the Phillips Lounge in Ogg Hall, which will accommodate 60% of the SERF’s current fitness equipment. Free weights will be moved to the Natatorium, where we will adjust the layout of the weight room. While the SERF is decommissioned and the new SERF is being built, students will still have access to our other facilities including the Natatorium, the Shell, and Nielsen Tennis Stadium.

  3. Will there be temporary exercise facilities on that side of campus? Some sort of space(s) for aerobic machines and a weight room? Getting to the Nat is a pretty big hike and I don’t think it can accommodate all of the spillover from the SERF.

    1. Yes! In fact, we will be utilizing the Phillips Lounge in Ogg Hall for most of our fitness equipment. The Lounge will be able to accommodate 60% of the SERF’s current fitness equipment. We are also exploring other areas on campus that can assist with temporary facilities. Most of the free weights from the SERF will be moved to the Natatorium, where we will make layout adjustments to account for increased equipment.

  4. The new swimming and diving facility will be a tremendous venue for bringing in community throughout the state and the nation. Think of all the positive impressions that will generate.

  5. I agree with Eric D. It’s a shame that it is being closed down and no temporary alternative set up to serve students in the rather long interim. Aren’t the remaining facilities going to be doubly overburdened while the SERF is out of commission?

    Also, I am wondering what the shower situation is going to be in the locker rooms. Specifically, is there going to be sufficient privacy, or will trans people still have to shower at home? It would be nice to finally be able to have the option to shower on-site, like everybody else.

    1. In preparation for the closing of the SERF, we have been working on a plan for alternative fitness spaces. As of right now, the majority of our cardio equipment will be moving to Phillips Lounge in Ogg Hall. Our other facilities will have extended hours, and we will continue to announce plans for alternative facilities as they are confirmed.

      We are designing the new facility based on inclusion, and are committed to creating a facility that is welcoming to everyone. We will have gender neural bathrooms and locker rooms in the new SERF. Please let us know if you have any other questions!

  6. “It is well worth the wait.”

    I mean, If you happen to graduate on or after Spring 2020, assuming that the project gets finished on time. But If you happen to be in the fateful class of 2019, then you get to not have a SERF for two whole years and then graduate without even seeing the finished facility. As a Badger I need spaces and programs to help me de-stress, stay healthy, and remain an active member of the academic community, and for the second half of my tenure here I’ll be without the principle location on campus for such things.

    I mean, I get it. Construction takes time and some class was going to get screwed with this. Just can’t help being frustrated losing such a potent resource that I take advantage of daily for the rest of my time here.

    1. Your concern and frustration is warranted. The fact remains that our current facility cannot accommodate our current nor future traffic into the facility. The new facility will foster accessible, available, health and wellness for the entire campus community for decades. You are certainly ‘taking a bullet’ for this loss of a potent campus resource.

      Remember that most generations of students endure something similar. For me, personally, it was the re-build of Union South which left a gaping hole in the center of campus for a long time. Today- Union South serves the student population better than the old Union South ever could and will continue to do so for decades.

  7. Hi Josie! We understand that the closing of a major rec facility will have a *major* impact on many students, however, the alternative to building a new facility would be to continue over-crowding our existing facility. What’s more: efficient operation of its aging infrastructure is becoming less manageable each year. We understand that you have an unfavorable opinion about the closing of a facility but this is something that students asked for.

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