On a rainy Monday morning in May, more than 100 people gathered at LaBahn Arena to officially break ground on the Nicholas Recreation Center, expected to open in the fall of 2019. Representatives from Rec Sports, UW Athletics, the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association (WFAA), and campus offices welcomed donors and students to celebrate the facility. A handful of speakers gave thanks to those involved in the project, including the Nicholas family, the lead donors.
John Horn, director of Rec Sports, remembered the first time he talked with Ab and Nancy Nicholas about the possibility of the project, “Ab said that he was hoping he could find an opportunity to impact the most students he possibly could on campus with a project. And when I said, ‘Well, about 80% of students use our facilities annually,’ he thought I said 18. I said, ‘No, 80.’ ‘Eight-zero?’, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘That is something that I want to be involved in.'”
The Nicholas family is no stranger to supporting UW-Madison. In June 2015, Ab and Nancy Nicholas announced a $50 million gift to create a one-to-one match to inspire other donors to give. The result: a $100 million endowment that will provide $4.5 million in scholarships annually. “It’s sort of hard to walk this campus and not see something that family has touched. We appreciate having them here with us and appreciate their support of this project that is very important to this campus,” said Mike Knetter, CEO of the WFAA.
Almost exactly half of the 1.5 million participations in Rec Sports facilities during the 2016-17 school year took place at the Southeast Recreational Facility (789,437). Due to the facility’s location and size, students flocked to it, despite its design flaws, leaky ceilings, and confusing layout. On the other hand, the Nick will feature abundant natural light, state-of-the-art equipment and amenities, more space for fitness and recreation, and a more inclusive design. We think it’s safe to say that participations will increase as we inspire even more members of the UW community to PLAY HARD. GET FIT. LIVE WELL.
“It’s difficult to imagine a project with more of an impact across campus. To our students, the Nick is going to be a place to form healthy habits that we hope will last them for a lifetime, as well as to meet new friends, cross paths with people they might not otherwise know, and learn some new skills. All of those things are vital for preparing them for healthy and fulfilling lives,” said Chancellor Blank.
As we begin the transition from Rec Sports to Recreation and Wellbeing, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. For us, recreation serves as a gateway to wellbeing. With the Nick, we’re confident that we’ll be able to provide the spaces and connections that will inspire activities and help students develop lifelong habits of wellbeing.
“With the new Nicholas Recreation Center, we are going to transform the out-of-classroom experience, help us build community and strengthen our recruitment, and help ensure the health, happiness, and wellbeing of generations of Badgers to come. We invest a lot in educational opportunities to improve student engagement and to enhance learning. But the truth is that no classroom technology or curriculum design can help students learn if they aren’t coming to class physically and emotionally healthy with energy to do good work,” continued Chancellor Blank.
Although the planned groundbreaking at the construction site turned into a “virtual groundbreaking” due to the rain, the excitement at the event was palpable. The Nick will impact the vast majority of the student body, as well as faculty and staff, and the surrounding community. As David Nicholas, son of Ab and Nancy, sees it, “This building will help attract top students to an already great university, provide them with a place to grow, and become well rounded members of society.” We couldn’t be more proud to be part of that process.