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Schools prioritize maintenance, air quality, and function in flooring

But administrators are looking for more than just easy maintenance when picking new floors

Do you ever think about air quality when putting a new floor into a school? Only in the past decade has this been among the questions purchasing officers have seriously considered.

From maintenance to color to price, the options for a school floor—an investment that is expected to last 25 to 30 years—are numerous. Amy Bostock, global brand manager for nora systems, Inc., says it’s only recently that administrators have begun considering different types of flooring. Because easy maintenance was previously the primary, and sometimes only, factor, schools typically had wood floors.

“Culturally, there was a mentality that if other products were introduced, the maintenance department would panic because they only knew how to wax and strip wooden floors. Everything else was so foreign,” she says.

One reason for the shift is that school leaders now are more cognizant about the quality of the materials in the flooring, Bostock says.

“Statistics have pointed to the necessity of high indoor air quality for proper early childhood development,” she says. “Flooring heavily influences air quality.”

Several aspects of flooring contribute to indoor air quality, including the amount of recycled materials, how many natural resources are consumed in the manufacturing process, and the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the flooring. Using flooring that is made from mostly recycled materials, with little to no VOCS, and manufactured in a plant that uses few natural resources, will contribute to pollutant-free air and allow students to breathe easily.

Irwin Katzmann, a product manager for Armstrong World Industries’ commercial flooring division, says the company’s “BioBased Tile” is an option for schools that want to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. With five times greater resistance to impact than standard tile (meaning a longer lifespan), BioBased Tile is comprised of a polymer made from rapidly renewable plant materials grown in the U.S. Ten percent of the material is pre-consumer recycled limestone.

Different areas, different needs

When school leaders first speak with flooring representatives, Katzmann says, a clear priority list is necessary. Knowing how much a district values performance, design, cost, ease of maintenance, and sustainability will make it easier to narrow options. It is also essential to think about specific spaces: because some floors have special requirements, you need to examine the material under the floor. Certain floors, for instance, have to be laid on concrete.

Floors in common spaces like cafeterias and auditoriums, which are used heavily both during and after school, need to stand up to constant use while remaining aesthetically appealing. Quality products can resist rips and other damages.

It is the quality of the product, plus proper installation, that ensures a long flooring life, Katzmann says.

“By their very nature, floors are subject to the toughest demands in a school building. Installation should be professionally done using the manufacturer’s recommended installation procedures.” Hiring the best professionals who will, for example, use the right adhesives to attach tiles to the underlying base of the floor will ensure the flooring lasts as long as possible.

Advantages of high-quality flooring

Kevin Elrath, manager of technical services for flooring company Stonhard, says that low-maintenance flooring has risen in popularity. A type of flooring that does not require heavy maintenance is polymer. This matte floor is poured over concrete, wood, or steel, and solidifies without the seams or weak points of tile.

Because polymers only have to be mopped with soap and water, the maintenance costs are lower. Polymer ranges from several dollars to $45 per square foot.

The cost depends on the polymer’s color, design, and thickness. Stonres, a Stonhard product, is a sound-absorbent polymer that keeps the noise in hallways from interrupting classroom activities along the corridors.

When making a flooring purchase, Elrath suggests selecting products suitable for the different rooms in a school. For example, a slip resistant floor is essential in bathrooms and locker rooms. Kitchens require heat-resistant floors that can handle ovens or hot oil spills.

Thinking outside the box

Warren Thompson, supervisor of construction for Prince William County (Va.) Public Schools, says durability also is a priority. “When you build a school, you are constructing a forever building,” he says. “Your floors should not need mass refreshing for 25 to 30 years.”

Prince William County schools don’t all have the same flooring. Vinyl composition tile, which is common and very durable, has been holding up at the middle and high schools since 1990. It costs about $3 per-square foot to install.

Until the mid-1990s, the district’s elementary schools had carpet. However, after mold started growing, a special kind of noise-reducing vinyl composition tile was installed.

“Anyone looking at it thinks it’s carpet,” Thompson says. “However, it’s actually vinyl that seams together.”

For the young students who frequently sit and work on the floor, it is more comfortable than typical tile, he adds.

Additionally, the manufacturer that a school selects should be able to recommend a high-density floor, he says. Your classroom floors should not be so soft that heavy desks and chairs leave dimples.

Finally, schools should look around the community when selecting new flooring, Thompson says. “Find out what your local grocery store is using,” he says. “They get high foot traffic, and if the flooring works for them, it’ll work for you.”