Nick rec facility rendering

Architect’s rendering of the northeast entrance to the future Nicholas Recreation Center — “the Nick,” for short — which will replace the Southeast Recreational Facility (SERF) in 2019.


A new student recreation facility at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will be known as the “Nick” when it opens next fall on the site of the former SERF.

The name will honor the philanthropists Ab and Nancy Nicholas, who gave $20 million toward reconstruction of what will be named the Nicholas Recreation Center, or the “Nick” for short.

“The main thing is that we wanted to do something that supports many students,” Nancy Nicholas said in a news release. “The Rec Sports project is something that all students can benefit from.”

UW–Madison shut down its Southeast Recreational Facility (SERF), 715 W. Dayton St., last fall to replace the 34-year-old building with a larger, $96.5 million structure. The new facility will have more workout spaces, exercise studios, basketball courts, and a regulation-size swimming pool.

Ab Nicholas died in 2016, but the couple had been involved in conversations about a gift for the recreational facility.

The Nicholas gift includes $15 million toward the construction of the new center and $5 million to the athletic department to build an Olympic-size swimming pool, which will also be housed at the center and be shared between Rec Sports and the varsity swimming team, according to John Horn, director of UW–Madison’s Division of Recreational Sports.

Nancy and Ab Nicholas have given tens of millions of dollars to causes throughout Wisconsin, including in 2015 a $50 million matching gift to support scholarships at UW–Madison.

While an undergrad, Ab was a varsity basketball player. A star on the teams of the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was twice selected first-team all-Big Ten and was drafted by the NBA. But he skipped a professional basketball career to serve in the military before returning to UW–Madison for his business degree. He went on to found the Nicholas Company, a respected Milwaukee-based investment firm.

The basketball practice facility, adjacent to the Kohl Center, is named after Ab Nicholas and the School of Human Ecology's building on campus is named after Nancy Nicholas.

In addition to private donations, students voted in a 2014 referendum to increase fees to help pay for an improved recreation facility.

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