Facilities (Campus Spaces

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What Floor Do You Live On?

residence hall flooring

PHOTO © SCOTT BERMAN

The disparate floors throughout the corridors, common areas, lounges, classrooms and bedrooms of Howard University’s recently constructed College Hall student residence in Washington, DC, are telling in some respects.

There are choices that speak to some of the expectations, needs and varieties of carpet and flooring products and types being specified and installed widely in student residences today.

At College Hall, those choices include tile in formal, tasteful colors in the entrance lobby and corridor; carpet tile in warm tones coordinate with soft seating in student lounges; similar carpet tile interspersed with bold strips of color in student room corridors; crisp carpet and vinyl plank in student rooms; and attractive, high-gloss vinyl composite tile (VCT) in classrooms.

Changing Trends

That variety of uses and interior designs also suggest how student residences have changed, and continue to change. Take, for another example, Lassonde Studios at the University of Utah. Lassonde, designed by EDA Architects, is a student residence just constructed and in the process of opening for the semester at this writing. As EDA’s Amanda Jones sees it, the new residence is “a new building type that integrates student living space with maker spaces.” Those maker spaces, or workshops, are interdisciplinary and are integrated through the building’s common and residential areas, purposely blurring the boundaries between each space.

The most prevalent floor? Polished concrete.

residence hall flooring

PHOTO © EDR

Jones explains that the concrete flooring “provides an excellent and durable surface for the anticipated near-constant reconfiguration of wheeled furniture and heavy equipment (and) will hold up well to the high traffic of furniture, equipment and students.” There are other considerations as well, centering on how spaces will be used today and tomorrow. According to Jones, “In addition to adding to the industrial garage feel, the concrete also helps to distinguish between areas that will be continuously repurposed and areas that are intended to be more static and less flexible. As the concrete ages and receives a patina of use, it will add to the industrial look and creative atmosphere of the design.”

There are additional choices throughout Lassonde. Carpet tile is limited to student rooms and circulation areas that serve those rooms, while luxury vinyl tile resembling wood planks appears in three colors in bathroom and locker areas. Finally, area rugs also appear “alongside the polished concrete in order to provide some visual ‘softness/comfort’ and aesthetic depth. These rugs were selected for their flexibility in design and overall durability,” Jones adds.

With such an array of student resident spaces come evolving expectations about flooring. Yet, some constants remain, and it comes as no surprise to facilities managers or others that expectations still center on things like durability, maintenance, the environment and budget. However, there’s increasing awareness today about how those aspects are interwoven.

residence hall lounge carpeting

PHOTOS © LASSONDE ENTREPRENEUR INSTITUTE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH

Nora, for one, cites rubber flooring as a case in point: arguing that it can be quite durable while not requiring “sealants, wax or other coatings to maintain its original appearance,” says Tim Cole, vice president of Marketing for nora systems, Inc. He explains that such flooring “can be cleaned simply, in some cases with just water, which means large areas of dormitories do not need to be closed while wax is stripped, reapplied and allowed to dry. The absence of harsh chemicals and the fact that the floor is GREENGUARD Gold Certified for low VOC emissions also support sustainability goals.”

Keeping It Green

Selecting flooring congruent with today’s keen environmental awareness can be less of a burden than it is an opportunity. In the view of James Kenner, vice president of Design for student residence developer EdR, flooring products that limit environmental impact “do not in any way limit our creativity.” For example, the developer is now installing 100-percent recycled-content carpet tiles wherever carpet is specified in student residence projects. Going this route “allows us the ability to create looks, mix materials and use patterns simply not possible with traditional rolled carpet,” says Kenner.

EdR also uses durable porcelain tile and antimicrobial vinyl tile plank for flooring throughout its student residences, and the variety speaks to the changing spaces and uses found in the building type. Kenner explains, “Many more amenities are offered in what has become a much more competitive market,” and with more amenities come the need for flooring to match. There are “golf simulators, poolside decks, community kitchens, hi-tech laundry rooms, ultramodern fitness centers,” and in response, “recycled products — rubber, wood, plastics, even abandoned fishing nets — all come into play when specifying flooring for these areas,” he says.

high traffic residence hall flooring

PHOTO © NORA

EdR has variously applied this strategy in student residences and other campus projects, such as at the University of Kentucky. There, Kenner explains, “all flooring materials specified are from recycled products.”

As for budget, Kenner acknowledges that going with recycled flooring products “is a little more expensive upfront but saves us money in the long run.” Also in terms of cost, nora’s Cole cites the need for flooring that can be installed efficiently and swiftly in student residence projects — to achieve that: flooring products with environmentally friendly adhesive layers, resistance to high moisture and the ability to be installed atop existing surfaces.

Weather Considerations

Each locale has its own factors to consider. At New York’s Syracuse University, for example, high-volume traffic and tough winters impacted the university’s choice of flooring across 22 residence halls, according to nora. In response, officials went with a “rubber flooring to cover dorm entrance areas, corridors, common spaces and stairwells,” the manufacturer indicates. The choice has stood up well to weather and traffic since being installed seven years ago.

Finally, there’s an interweaving of other factors: aesthetics and competition. Cole puts it this way: “As institutions of higher education compete for students, the appearance of campus facilities and the services they offer are becoming increasingly important.”

It follows that carpet and flooring are also becoming increasingly important.

SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THE PROCESS OF FINDING, SELECTING AND INSTALLING CARPET AND FLOORING IN TODAY’S STUDENT RESIDENCES:

  • Consider flooring’s role as a focal point of an interior design scheme. What kind of statement can be expressed, what tone or mood suggested, for what spaces?
  • “Look at total cost of ownership,” says nora systems’ Tim Cole, who points out that depending on maintenance needs and durability, “a floor with the cheapest price tag sometimes comes with a much higher total cost of ownership.”
  • Think through how floors can contribute to the flexibility of spaces today and tomorrow. That is, how may the use and furnishings of those spaces change in the future, and how can flooring not only accommodate those changes, but also withstand the moving that so often comes with such changes?

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Scott Berman is a freelance writer with experience in educational topics.

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