Designers and facility managers who seek to create the ideal educational space for students face no small undertaking. Schools must meet tough demands. Striking the perfect balance between a welcoming space and an environment that supports academic success is key.
Education projects present unique challenges. Teachers, instructors and school administrators may have distinct ideas for how classrooms, media centres or study areas should be designed to best meet the needs of students. Likewise, students may have preferences for how they study, collaborate or work best individually.
Careful consideration should be given to flooring type to meet these various requirements. Flooring is an expansive surface extending into rooms, hallways, common areas and other spaces. Whether it’s for a K-12 building or higher education setting, the right flooring can foster learning and creativity, and even help keep students inspired.
To ensure the correct flooring is selected, it’s important to ask the following questions.
1. Who will use the space? And what is the intended educational focus?
K-12 students have different needs than post-secondary school students. As a result, there are different functions and educational activities. Kindergarten teachers may want their students to gather on the floor. Naturally, a soft carpet flooring might be a good choice. Conversely, college and university students might need to collaborate and group up for team projects, so a hard surface where chairs and desks can be easily moved without damaging the flooring would make that easier. When planning and designing educational space, it’s critical to know the end-user’s activities, type of experience desired for that space and what kind of flooring can best support that.
2. What are the performance characteristics and/or maintenance needs? And how do those requirements lend themselves to a cohesive design?
Carpet in either a modular or broadloom format can be a viable choice. Carpet is softer and offers better sound absorption than other flooring options, which brings acoustical benefits and can provide a warm ambience for the room. Because of its softness, it can also be better at preventing injuries that might occur with trips, slips or falls. Broadloom with welded seams and a moisture barrier backing provides excellent stain protection, while carpet tiles offer the opportunity to repair small sections without having to replace the entire flooring. Modular carpet also allows flexibility in design. When selecting carpet, look for a Texture Appearance Retention Rating (TARR) of at least 3.5 for an education facility.
Another flooring option is luxury vinyl tile (LVT). This flooring type is engineered to withstand extreme foot traffic, is easy to maintain, usually waterproof and can be cost-effective, an important consideration for many schools. LVT can often provide a range of design aesthetics, including the ability to create custom looks that can contribute to school branding. To help with sound absorption, some LVT providers offer a specialized underlayment. It’s important to select a wear layer with 20 mil or higher to assist with the performance needed for the space.
Then there’s rubber flooring, which is quiet, durable and comfortable underfoot, an important attribute, especially for teachers or instructors who spend most of their time standing. Rubber also provides an extra level of safety when it comes to falls — for people or manipulatives. Whether it’s a kindergartner tripping over an untied shoe, a teacher falling in the hallway or a student dropping an old chemistry beaker, rubber flooring allows for better outcomes when people or things hit the ground. Plus, rubber is easy to clean and maintain. It has self-migrating waxes that come to the surface when the floor is cleaned and/or buffed over the life of the product. Because of this, there is never a need to wax the floor, lowering maintenance costs.
3. What are the design capabilities of the flooring?
Many schools at the K-12, college and university levels recognize the power that comes when they connect their brand to their physical spaces. Incorporating school colours in hallways, dining areas and student lounges reinforces a school’s brand with students, faculty, staff and visitors. While a flooring solution can support a school’s branding, it may require a made-to-order carpet with custom colours to match to the school’s logo.
Of course, branding is just one consideration when it comes to design. Many schools want to use the flooring to assist with wayfinding to direct people from one area to another or to signal to them that they’ve entered a new space.
Amanda Darley is Mannington Commercial’s vice-president of marketing. Mannington Commercial manufactures commercial modular and broadloom carpet, luxury vinyl tile, resilient sheet and rubber flooring.