Facilities (Campus Spaces)

The Perfect Floor

Perfect Floor

PHOTOS COURTESY OF SCOTT BERMAN

There are multiple demands and challenges for flooring products in campus environments, and finding, selecting and installing new floors across the varied spaces found on any campus today has to be done just so. Decision makers must navigate through competing factors such as costs, materials, aesthetics and more when selecting, procuring or installing new or renovated flooring. Where to start?

College Planning & Management recently joined Charlie Haas, project manager and architect at Marquette University, for a look at some recently installed flooring systems on the university’s Milwaukee campus. It was one telling example of the kinds of things that campuses nationwide face when finding the best flooring solutions in their own renovation and new construction projects.

Perfect Floor

PHOTOS COURTESY OF SCOTT BERMAN

TREAD SOFTLY. Replacing hard-surface flooring with carpet tile can have unexpected benefits. At Marquette, the sound-absorbing qualities of carpet tile have resulted in unexpected — but welcome — new collaboration between faculty members.

Finding the Right Fit

At Marquette, assessing life-cycle costs, factoring in sustainability and a turn away from focus on first cost have all been part of the process for some years, Haas explains. There’s more to it, however: decision makers also have to choose and implement flooring solutions that are not only practical, but that also comport well with the campus’ distinguished architecture. Accordingly, it’s a constant give-and-take “between the aesthetic and the functionality,” Haas says.

To arrive at the best solution, “we’re willing to try new things,” he points out. Those things have included, in terms of entryways alone: replacing inlaid slat walk-off mats in narrow vestibules, filling in their shallow basins and replacing the old system with ceramic tile or terrazzo and walk-off horse-hair-like synthetic mats; and using lighter colors than previously for tile to mask winter salt and extending the walk-off area six to eight feet into corridors to more effectively catch salt, mud and water.

At Marquette’s newly renovated and expanded Sensenbrenner Hall, one of the oldest academic buildings on campus, stairwells have been outfitted with premolded rubber tile; back-of-the-house service spaces with no-wax LVT; area rugs over ceramic tile in some hall lounges; ceramic tile in other spaces in brick-joint or stack joint patterns; and transitions between rooms are provided by differing carpet tile colors, patterns and pile. Additionally, since indoor environmental quality is a priority on campus, so are low-VOC content for flooring products, adhesives and sealants. One goal of the low-VOC option being, “when you come into school the first day, it doesn’t smell like everything’s off-gassing,” Haas says.

Unexpected Benefits

Carpet tile is provided not only in faculty offices, but also in the sub-corridors leading from department reception areas to those offices. The reason why is interesting: Haas describes how faculty members distracted by noise such as the clacking of shoes in those areas tended to close their doors for quiet, but since sound-buffering carpet tiles have been applied, doors tend to stay open — and it has enhanced ad-hoc collaboration between faculty. “Who would have thought that a simple change would have affected so much other change?” he says.

Perfect Floor

PHOTOS COURTESY OF SCOTT BERMAN

Elsewhere, at Youngstown State University in Ohio, Facilities staff took on a number of floor replacement projects this past summer — a typical situation on many campuses, as is the demanding schedule to get things done and ready for the fall semester. A telling impetus for the flooring choices there: durability and easy cleaning. Staff Architect Bill Spencer described and showed College Planning & Management examples that included walk-off carpet tile; broadloom carpeting in offices; and rubber tile products such as Johnsonite, which is used in laboratories, computer labs and classrooms as well as in halls, where in one instance meets carpet tile at a turn in a corridor, providing a transition to a lecture hall beyond.

In a large flooring project this summer, contractors replaced entry lobby and corridor flooring in Beeghly Center, a 6,300-seat multipurpose arena. The arena is a center of campus life — a front door of the university, if you will, and the flooring solution is indicative. A subtle, patterned design of blue and gray is composed of dark walk-off carpet tile meeting newly poured terrazzo with a narrow reddish band that foreshadows the threepoint line of the basketball court within.

Perfect Floor

PHOTOS COURTESY OF SCOTT BERMAN

LET’S MEET UP. Flooring system materials can be used to define transitional areas between spaces. Careful evaluation of these meeting points must be made in order to choose the best component options as well as complementary colors and designs.

A Look at What Lasts

All campuses have their own flooring needs, goals and dynamics. Yet there is the common, compelling need for particularly durable, affordable systems and for processes to make the best choices. There are changes in how educational institutions are approaching that process today, according to John Sumlin, national sales vice president, Education, for Tandus Centiva. As he sees it, things are evolving, with first-cost drivers seen as less compelling and “more money and time spent,” he explains, discussing lifecycle cost, indoor environment quality and total cost of ownership evaluations. Additionally, “a more partnering approach has come forward,” says Sumlin. “We are seeing more program management and construction management, which allows all schools to choose the best value path, lowest cost per quality point; not low price. They are pre-qualifying everything and everyone.”

Other kinds of changes in flooring are also being noted, including materials, products and their applications across campuses in recent years.

For example, project managers constructing a physical education facility several years ago at Coppin State University in Baltimore were dissatisfied with polished concrete flooring being installed and worked with Stonhard on a different approach: a seamless system atop a crack-bridging agent that was applied to the concrete substrate, according to the manufacturer. The new surface contains an epoxy undercoat, a layer of colored flakes, and a clear finish that Stonhard explains is “decorative (and) eye-catching” as well as “stain resistant…durable and requires little maintenance.”

Perfect Floor

PHOTOS COURTESY OF SCOTT BERMAN

The Coppin case is an example of the expanding application of resinous flooring systems, which have predominately been used on campuses in back-of-the-house spaces with tough environments for floors, such as food service areas and research laboratories, says Stonhard Senior Architectural Engineer John Wagner. He says that new, customizable versions of resinous flooring systems — which he points out provide durability, easy maintenance and thus lower life-cycle costs, as well as aesthetics — are being used in “classrooms, teaching lab areas, lobbies, corridors, gymnasiums, stadiums and cafeteria seating areas on college campuses.”

Maintenance Considerations

Whatever system a campus goes with, there may be much to consider. Back at Marquette, a walkthrough of a recently renovated lecture hall revealed the kinds of choices designers and campus officials routinely make. Haas showed the 250-seat room with pitched seating, one of three such rooms in the campus’ 1924-vintage Marquette Hall. Flooring must meet various demands in such a space: particularly resiliency and good acoustics. Haas and designers met with custodians, who expressed concern about an early plan to carpet the entire space, including the seating tiers, in order to help meet that second demand, good acoustics.

Perfect Floor

PHOTOS COURTESY OF SCOTT BERMAN

Custodians pointed out that dirt, water, mud and salt would be ruinous for carpeting where shoes and boots linger in the high-traffic room: on the floors of each tier where students sit. Additionally, power outlets are relatively scarce in this room of the 90-year-old building, which presented a challenge for vacuuming carpeted tiers. A mop-friendly rubber tile was selected instead, with carpet tile applied to the front of the room and steps, which also have rubber nosing. As for the carpet tile — Interface is the manufacturer, Haas says — its colors and patterns, in a color palette that references those of the original building, help obscure wear and dirt while heightening the room’s visual interest.

As Haas adds, arriving at the multi-pronged flooring solution “was quite the decision process.” The comment could apply to such projects more broadly, and given the demands and challenges, it’s well worth the effort.

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

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