Let’s be honest. Out of all the finish materials that go into a school, the most performance is expected out of flooring. It has to hold up to high foot traffic, but be easy to maintain. It needs to be beautiful, even reflecting a school’s branding, and stain resistant, which is a challenge given that even middle schoolers now drink coffee. On top of this, the product must be affordable. All of these concerns make it difficult to select flooring among the ever changing options.
The design professionals at BVH constantly research flooring options and take many factors into consideration when recommending the best flooring type for a new school or renovation project: durability, maintenance, design options, sustainability and price. Following is not an exhaustive list of flooring options, but excellent choices to keep in mind.
Many BVH projects involve historic buildings, and it doesn’t take a scientific study to recognize that terrazzo stands the test of time. Schools built over fifty years ago have terrazzo corridors that can be polished to near newness. While historic buildings used cementitious terrazzo, new installations are typically epoxy terrazzo. The epoxy products are thinner (¼ to ⅜”), can be installed over a new or existing concrete slab and polished the day after they are poured. It is possible to match the epoxy base to school colors, and create intricate designs with the metal dividers. Maintenance is easy and low-cost, involving only dusting, mopping and occasional re-sealing. The greatest deterrent to using epoxy terrazzo is the upfront cost, but over its life cycle it is an excellent investment for a school.
Rubber flooring is often reserved for stairwells, but is an excellent option for corridors as well. Tiles or rolls in a variety of color options are available. Made from a renewable resource, newly laid rubber flooring is considered sustainable and is recyclable at the end of its usefulness. It has better cushioning, slip-resistance and sound absorption than terrazzo or concrete. The maintenance protocol is simple–vacuuming, mopping and periodic auto-scrubbing, but must be done regularly to avoid a dingy appearance. Schools can expect at least 20 years of performance from rubber flooring. Like epoxy terrazzo, it is more expensive than products such as VCT or LVT but is longer lasting and better performing.
Concrete is becoming increasingly popular for corridors in modern schools. There is a misconception that it is an inexpensive, maintenance-free option, though. Polished concrete is costly due to the additional labor involved and sealed concrete requires regular re-sealing. It can cause acoustical issues, is prone to cracking and is hard under foot. Given all these ‘cons’ you may wonder why anyone opts for it. All things considered, concrete is extremely durable, is already a part of the project and requires little day-to-day maintenance. For a modern aesthetic, there are few products that match its natural beauty.
Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) has become the go-to replacement for Vinyl Composition Tile (VCT). It is inexpensive and easier to maintain than VCT, given that it does not require any sealers or buffing. It is typically manufactured in planks or square tiles, so if a tile is scratched or damaged, a single tile can be replaced. Recent advances in digital printing have increased the number of patterns and colors available–even making custom options possible. The downside of the product is that it is not sustainable and has a significantly shorter lifespan. The product allows a school to get a new floor at a great price, but a plan for replacement should be considered in seven to ten years.
A newer product option for schools is Textile Composite Flooring. One example is the Kinetex brand from J & J Flooring. It is a cross between LVT and carpet–imagine carpet without any pile. The ‘pros’ for this product are considerable: durable, easy to maintain, slip-resistant, sound-absorbing and sustainable (made from plastic water bottles). It prices out similarly to LVT, but is easier to maintain. Also, it can be used in classrooms as well as corridors, giving the space seamless transitions. Because it is a newer product, the design options are somewhat limited, but that will likely change as it grows in popularity.
Whether you are starting a ground-up building project or quick renovation, BVH can help you select products that meet your goals for the space. Fortunately there are a variety of beautiful, high-performance flooring options at every price point.
In the past few years, my fervor has grown by leaps and bounds as the old industrial model has started evolving through new pedagogies and curriculum. These changes are based on approaches inspired in part by new technologies, and in part by fundamental shifts in how applied learning can truly produce better results. Some of the factors expounding those shifts in education were highlighted in a recent EdSpaces conference I attended. I share these highlights here to help kickstart a dialogue I hope we can continue.
As most of us know, previous generations were primarily focused on the 3 R’s: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. The focus has now shifted to the 4 or 5 C’s, depending on which camp you are in: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking (and Compassion). The fundamental shift is from mastering content to the ability to work with content to create meaningful results.
Now, Project-Based Learning (PBL) – a teaching method where students understand the material by engaging in research, investigation and solving real-world problems for an extended period of time – is pushing the learner to internalize the content rather than simply memorize it, which ultimately produces results. PBL also transcends the typical subject-based curriculum toward an integrated one with an interdisciplinary approach. Students are challenged to engage in design thinking, requiring them to learn and practice empathy to drive toward deeper solutions through the stages of definition, ideation, iteration, implementation and very importantly, feedback. The richness of the investigation and learning inspires in a way traditional rote memorization and digestion of content never can.
Learning spaces are adapting to these new methodologies in myriad ways. Desks are no longer arranged in rows and columns, but grouped in clusters to foster the 5 C’s. Rooms are changing from dedicated content spaces to small, medium and large exploration environments with mobile tools that travel from space to space where needed. A connection to the physical world is now recognized as essential, as is access to natural light to stimulate our circadian cycles. Outdoor environments to further students’ understanding of what’s learned inside the classroom is also seen as invaluable to relieve the continuity of indoor environments with strictly controlled elements such as temperature and light levels. All of this further awakens bodies from the under stimulation resulting from the sameness of consistency.
These agile learning environments are empowering students to have voice and choice in their environments and how they approach learning. This empowerment leads to motivation over listlessness. When the students have a say in what tool they use, how they utilize it, with whom and even where they learn, the environment becomes a resource that propels them forward rather than an obstacle to overcome.
The implications for architecture are only starting to be explored around the globe as educators and architects work together to explore ways to make learning better. I have never been more excited for the future of education and to work on these environments. While the design process just got harder and the outcomes are not as easy to predict, the real benefits and results that society will see as a whole make the effort easy to endure. What are your thoughts? Shoot me an email. Let’s push this forward together.