Facilities (Learning Spaces)

The Choice is Yours

School flooring options

PHOTO © SCOTT BERMAN

Ease of maintenance, affordability, durability and health and safety: They all weigh heavily on school districts’ choices for carpet and flooring.

Nothing new there, but how do such factors impact the look and aesthetic of floors today? Must there be a trade-off as districts seek the very best possible interiors to meet needs and support their educational mission?

Districts across the United States are responding variously. Some current ways were evident in a recent visit to Bristol Township School Districts’ Mill Creek Elementary and Harry S. Truman High, both in Levittown, Penn. At the newly constructed Mill Creek, Bob Maloney, operations director, and Mill Creek architect Bruce Bachtle, partner, Schradergroup Architecture, pointed out design elements and flooring varieties, including rubber, vinyl composite tile (VCT) and carpet tile. At the decades-old high school, long expanses of refinished terrazzo caught the eye. At both schools, flooring and carpets had an attractive color palette, with accents, trim corresponding furniture and lighting complementing fine finishes on new and older flooring alike.

elementary school flooring

PHOTO © SCOTT BERMAN

The district, faced with cost and time constraints, has implemented a proactive maintenance program, with Maloney describing routines that use fewer chemicals and get good results. In short, the district has gone with nuanced differences that pertain to floor type: For example, auto scrubbers and floor pads to prepare, clean and polish floor types such as VCT and terrazzo, to which a robust sealer has been applied, with the VCT finished with two layers of wax atop the sealer, and fresh urethane layers on maple gym floors. Typically, the auto scrubbers use only deionized water instead of chemicals, and Maloney is pleased with the results. Around the district, the proactive approach has sped things up, and floor finishes are looking good, Maloney adds. The impetus: to make floor maintenance as efficient and cost effective as possible.

Of course, ease of maintenance and affordability are crucial whatever the flooring type, and there is a wide range of options, including premium rubber flooring. The rubber flooring approach provides many options in terms of color, texture and patterns, explains Tim Cole, vice president of marketing at nora systems, Inc., and with these options come easy maintenance. Stripping, waxing and sealing are not regularly required, “saving valuable time in the cleaning process and the costs associated with purchasing those products,” Cole points out. Further, brand-specific scrubbing pads are part of a nora cleaning system designed to cut time, cost and the use of detergents and chemicals.

school hallway flooring

PHOTO © SCOTT BERMAN

To take another example, various districts are going with textile composite flooring. It’s a choice that J+J Flooring Group’s Bob Bethel, director of Business Development, Education, says “can withstand the intense wear and tear of a K-12 school environment, while keeping its appearance for multiple years.” Further, Bethel explains that a J+J product, Kinetex, is designed accordingly for cleaning with vacuums and hot water extraction.

As Lauri Watnee, Mohawk Group’s director of Institutional Markets, explains, some “fiber technologies provide the ability to clean most stains with only water, reducing the time spent on maintenance, the amount of chemical needed to clean, and keeping the residue out of the breathing environment. Other positive attributes may be fiber systems that are capable of resisting the chemical loss of color due to bleach or hydrogen peroxide cleaning chemicals.”

Such maintenance options do not limit opportunities to use carpets and flooring to make bold design statements — in fact, quite the opposite today. As Bethel puts it, “We don’t see schools needing to sacrifice a highly aesthetic flooring for an easy-to-clean/maintain flooring. K-12 facility decision makers can seamlessly combine high design with easy-maintenance flooring.”

school classroom floor

PHOTO © NORA SYSTEMS INC.

Cole also notes an infusion of color in school interior designs, including rubber flooring that can be customized with vibrant floor inlays that fuse aesthetic appeal with practical purposes. As Cole explains, “inlays can be used as a design element or educational tool. Inlays also offer a wayfinding device, which can be so important to children as they navigate through a large building, moving from one class or activity to another.”

This writer has seen a variety of floor logo and mascot designs in schools. In one of the interesting takes, a large, attractive map of the world with cardinal directions was recently created in a student project at Silver Spring, Maryland’s Wheaton High School. A more routine example is a school district logo emblazoned on the VCT flooring in the main lobby of Mill Creek Elementary. However, the logo’s color scheme is an elegant complement to the overall interior design of the school, where other flooring approaches, such as carpet tile in the school’s attractive library, also reflect and amplify the design.

school media center floor

PHOTO © SCOTT BERMAN

Logo or not and whatever the product, vivid color makes a well-chosen, well-maintained floor pop. Examples abound. Among many, many others, there are: the bold, bright hues adorning classroom floors by nora systems at Christa McAuliffe School in Concord, New Hampshire; pattern and colors that come together with a sense of fun and elegance in a J+J Flooring installation at Nelson Mandela Elementary in Omaha, Nebraska; and Mohawk Group’s sustainable, richly colored and textured carpet — youngsters helped provide design ideas — at Phipps Conservatory’s SEEDclassroom facility in Pittsburgh.

So even with maintenance and other factors to consider, there is not necessarily a trade-off with aesthetics today. And as Watnee adds, “the flooring industry is exciting and innovative, constantly developing new visual and performance enhancements that create beautiful spaces in which learning can happen.”

Some recommendations about selecting the right carpet and flooring system for a school:

school logo/crest on hallway floor

PHOTO © SCOTT BERMAN

  • Consider that a floor, if attractive, durable, affordable and safe, can reinforce a school’s identity. For example, when “a very specific effect, logo or brand statement is required, the floor can be customized to meet a school’s unique needs,” Tim Cole of nora systems, Inc. points out.
  • Stay vigilant and curious about the best possible cleaning approaches, policies and equipment for your school, as Bristol Township School’s example indicates.
  • Remember that proactive, daily cleaning of walk-off systems is the first step toward a clean, long-lasting flooring system, whatever form it takes, Mohawk Group’s Lauri Watnee explains.
  • Make “sure you have the right flooring product for the right space, and at the right price point,” says J+J Flooring’s Bethel, who also urges facilities decision makers to ask how any flooring product may impact design and what maintenance plans accompany the flooring product.

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

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