Study the Options

Every morning when the bell rings, they drag their muddy sneakers through the front doors and swarm the hallways. Students of all ages run to their classes, drop soft drinks in the cafeteria, and reenact Shakespearean drama in the school play. They lie on the floor at naptime when they’re young and congregate in front of their lockers as they get older. Suffice to say, across school facilities, the floors take a beating.

K-12 school facilities need flooring to fight back against this never-ending abuse, and specifiers should know their options. These days, more and more specifiers are choosing carpeting for educational facilities. The benefits of noise reduction, improvement in environmental considerations, and safety, combined with more easy-to-maintain options have made carpeting a favorite choice.

Doing Your Homework: Advantages of Carpeting in School Facilities

In 2001, a nationwide study of more than 1,000 public school teachers found that teachers believe carpet helps provide the safety, comfort, and acoustics that create the“ideal learning environment” for students (National Survey of Public School Teachers, Beth Schapiro & Associates, 3/01).

School facilities require flooring with easy maintenance; mold, stain, and fade resistance; and patterns and colors that can mask the inevitable accumulation of soil. Carpeting offers each of these features while retaining its original appearance for decades with an overall lower cost of ownership.

Flooring choice also plays a distinct role in keeping students healthy. According to Alan Hedge, professor of design and environmental analysis at Cornell University, carpeting in schools can help improve indoor air quality by trapping contaminants and allergens to keep them from entering the breathing zone.

Educational facilities might also consider choosing manufacturers that utilize environmentally sensitive manufacturing techniques supported by materials that carry Environmentally Preferable Product status and the Carpet & Rug Institute’s Green Label Plus certification. These green-thinking practices contribute to the overall sustainability of the carpeting and reduce its impact on nature.

In addition, carpeting offers improved sound quality and provides impact-dampening features, while confining noise to its original space. Noise reduction is particularly important in areas where students gather in large groups, such as the cafeteria and auditorium, and in classrooms, where learning is a priority.

An economical choice when taking into account flooring preparation, installation, labor, maintenance, and replacement, high-quality carpeting can help save school facilities thousands of dollars.

Textured carpeting is an increasingly popular option in schools as it masks lint, soil, and floor imperfections; conceals seams; and helps camouflage spills that cannot be treated immediately.

Head of the Class: Questions to Ask When Selecting Carpeting

School facilities consider many factors when specifying carpet. Among the most pertinent questions to ask are the following.

Will the carpeting withstand the rigors of daily foot traffic and continuous punishment from school-age students?

Children aren’t concerned about their school carpet’s ease of maintenance, but the management and janitorial staffs will be. For quick and easy clean up, specifiers should examine carpet dyeing processes and stain-resistant technologies that enable cleaning with just water and mild detergent. Schools should also select carpeting with stain-resistant dyes that are integrated into the carpet fiber instead of applied topically. This technique protects carpeting from stains and fading while retaining its vibrant colors.

How will the carpeting ensure student and faculty safety?

Once installed, carpeting should not unravel, delaminate, or zipper, despite constant wear. Specifiers should consider backing systems that provide non-prorated lifetime warranties guaranteeing against delamination, wear, and edge ravel, as well as those that provide synthetic moisture barriers that do not support mold growth.

What is the reputation of the carpet manufacturer?

To guarantee the durability and longevity of the carpet, look for a manufacturer with a long-standing reputation for quality products. The manufacturer should offer non-prorated lifetime warranties, ensuring the carpeting will last for the lifetime of the facility.

Are carpet tiles a better option?

With high-performance carpet manufacturers, carpet tile products offer the same performance attributes as other products, and provide more flexibility. In addition, they can be easily changed where needed.

What are the best carpet designs for a K-12 facility?

Carpet offers a range of aesthetic options depending upon where in the facility it will be installed. For example, smaller-scale, subtle aesthetics are less likely to distract students, contributing to increased concentration in the classroom. Carpeting with bright colors and custom designs, on the other hand, can offer young children the aesthetic stimulation they need for their development. Manufacturers should also offer coordinating carpet collections, which increase design possibilities and ensure a harmonious aesthetic throughout the building, from classrooms to playrooms to administrative offices.

Reading, Writing and… Appearance Retention

Spills are expected in any public facility, but in the K-12 market they are even more likely. Whether in the cafeteria or the classroom, the art room or science lab, carpeting needs to put up a fight against the dirt kids undoubtedly leave behind.

Specifiers should explore easy-to-maintain carpeting that offers color systems with fade resistance and features to ensure it will retain its aesthetic appeal after years of wear and tear. Other necessary carpet maintenance features include permanent stain and soil resistance; long-term appearance retention; high-performance backing systems that resist edge raveling at seams, tuft pulls, zippering, and delamination; and a moisture barrier that is mold and mildew resistant.

Putting the Spotlight on Performance Flooring

When it comes to school performance spaces such as auditorium stages and dance classrooms, the flooring of choice requires new considerations. The unique aspect of this type of flooring is its own inherent need to continually perform. Because students of the arts, particularly dance and theatre, participate in such rigorous activities, the flooring needs to hold up for safety reasons. And because this performing is meant for an audience, the flooring also needs to maintain its appearance throughout its lifetime.

Auditioning for the Lead

After determining there is designated space for the dance or theater department, schools need to decide which type of dance flooring best fits their needs. There are two basic surface options.

Wood

Hardwood (e.g., maple, beech, oak): The established option for architects and specifiers has been toward hardwood surfaces. Whereas they have a visually attractive appeal, they can require continuous and costly maintenance, with re-sanding and sealing every few years. If waxes or incorrect seals are applied, they can also pose a significant slip hazard.

Softwood (e.g., pine, fir, spruce): Specifiers should never use softwood as an unprotected dance or performance surface. Softwoods are easily damaged and there is always the risk of splintering. However, they offer an acceptable sub-surface because there is relatively more“give” than a hardwood floor.

Synthetics: Now the industry standard in dance flooring, synthetics are flexible vinyl surfaces that can be unrolled over most surfaces for instant performing arts floors.

Many factors help to determine the performance flooring choice:

• What is the budget for the space?

• How big is the room or performance space?

• Which type of sub-floor does the space have?

• How much work needs to be done to the existing floor to prepare it for the new installation?

• Will the installation be permanent or will it need to be removed occasionally?

Multi-Purpose Areas: How to Choose the Right Performance Flooring

Specifiers need to decide whether the performance space will be used for other activities besides dance and theater. If the space will also be used as a gymnasium or meeting room, it might be best to choose a loose-laid or semi-permanent floor that can be removed periodically as necessary.

Once it has been determined that a permanent dance floor is the best solution, specifiers must decide on the type of dance for which the floor will be used. For schools with a strong dance program, for example, a slip-resistant surface with a sprung sub-floor is certainly the best option. Sprung dance floors are designed to return energy to the performers to give them the extra lift they require to complete strenuous leaps, and at the same time, to absorb shock and eliminate any “trampoline effect.” On the other hand, if the performance floor needs to survive the rigors of tap and other percussive dance or a barrage of heavy stage equipment, the sprung floor needs judicious reinforcement or blocking, and an extra hard-wearing but slip-resistant dance surface. This more versatile and highly specialized heavy-duty vinyl should be considered for facilities with performance spaces that house not only dance and drama programs, but also clubs and other extracurricular activities.

School facilities with smaller budgets might not be able to afford a ballet room, for example, either in cost or in space. If the basketball court doubles as the dance studio, the dancers will want to roll up the flooring once they finish for the day to protect it from less sensitive activities.

Ensuring Performers Don’t “Break a Leg”

Important to any specifier, but particularly for school facility performance spaces, is the issue of safety. Schools must ensure safety for their students, as well as any outside performers using the dance space. As such, several questions should be considered pertaining to dance flooring.

Does the flooring have a non-slip surface?

Avoid the unhealthy chance of the janitorial department waxing the floor to a high shine, which can increase the risk of someone slipping and sustaining serious injuries. Specify a vinyl dance floor with a matte or satin slip-resistant surface to prevent falls, and ensure the dance floor supplier also provides a detailed maintenance schedule.

What are the installation procedures?

Correctly installing the dance flooring can mean the difference between years of performances and immediate shutdown. Consult a flooring professional who can assess the needs of the individual space and install the floor according to the manufacturer’s recommended procedures to avoid disfiguring lumps, ripples, poor joints, and general trip hazards.

What type of maintenance does the floor need?

Properly maintaining performance flooring is essential for its long life. Permanent vinyl flooring installation offers impermeable welded seams to waterproof and seal the floor. Some vinyls also have soil-resistant surfaces for easy cleaning and hygienic surfaces.

The choices and options are similar for each type of flooring, but the main question remains the same: Is this the best flooring available for these specifications? Both carpeting and performance flooring must ensure safety, quality, and lasting aesthetics.

Jeff Balser is the vice president of Educational Sales for Lees Carpets. For more information, visit the company’s Web site at www.leescarpets.com.

Bob Dagger is the president of American Harlequin Corporation. For more information, visit the company’s Web site at www.harlequinfloors.com.

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