K-12 High-Traffic Areas

Flooring and the Impact It Has On K-12 Learning Environments

When it comes to high-traffic areas in schools, flooring plays a lead role in defining learning spaces.

Flooring is a critical part of the process when designing a K-12 school environment. Flooring plays a lead role in defining high-traffic areas. When it comes to the selection of hard or soft surfaces, PBK first considers the impact the application will have on functionality and effectiveness of the learning environment.

When entering the Center for Advanced Careers in Alief, Texas, visitors encounter an open environment showcasing different career pathways, all flowing into the heart of the facility — in what we call, an interactive observation lab. The flooring application connecting each of the various areas is terrazzo; the nearly 216,000-square-foot facility was created with a central communal plaza and learning on display. The smooth finish, with no grout lines, offers a quieter handling of rolling carts and/or other mobile equipment. Terrazzo is extremely durable, highly moisture resistant and easy to clean. It is also low maintenance and has a low lifecycle cost.

school flooring

The communal plaza helps minimize the need for circulation hallways and promotes cross- pollination of programs, providing students with the opportunity to explore multiple career paths. There is quite a bit of foot traffic throughout the plaza, but the owner wanted to ensure the flooring was resilient and could withstand the weight of heavy machinery. A ramp in the plaza allows a vehicle to drive right into the interactive observation lab. PBK’s designers knew the terrazzo would handle the weight of a robot and/or large vehicle.

Luxury vinyl tile (LVT) is another avenue some schools are integrating into high-traffic areas. While the cost is higher initially, there is very little maintenance on the tile. This application can be integrated utilizing bright colors, neutral colors, a stone look and/or wood imitation. It is also available in a wide variety of colors and styles.

Paetow High School in the Katy Independent School district, outside of Houston, houses 3,000 students and represents a change from the traditional high school program. PBK was tasked with creating a contemporary environment with Next Generation learning principles and applications that compliments the campus’ coastal setting and enables synergies that enhance the learning environment. The progressive interiors are filled with adaptable, reactive spaces that cater to personalized learning. The environment supports expanded curriculum and open exploration of educational and career opportunities. PBK worked with the district to use LVT throughout the main hallways and entrances as a long-wearing and low-maintenance solution.

school flooring

With changing educational philosophies and increasing usage of mobile devices in schools, students are not always parked at desks — a small operational change, but a large impact to interior functionality. A transition to carpet signals the entry to the campus’ library. Flex spaces are designed similarly, shifting from tile to carpet. Traditional, closed-in libraries have evolved into more open, collaborative work spaces. Since libraries are intentionally quieter, campuses like Klein Cain High School in Klein ISD opt for carpet instead of tile to absorb and minimize surface noise. Daily maintenance for carpets includes vacuuming and spot removal. This is especially true for high-traffic areas including corridors, libraries or classrooms. More than 75 percent of the soil found in carpet is dry, particulate soil and can be removed relatively easily with regular vacuuming. It also tends to remove most of the dust and dirt. School carpets still need a deep cleaning from time to time which is usually done over breaks to minimize disruptions. By maintaining carpet, the aesthetic and appearance will last much longer.

Recently, PBK renovated Kingwood High School in the Humble Independent School after it flooded during Hurricane Harvey. Since Kingwood High School was impacted by a hurricane, it was important to replace the flooring quickly to allow students to return to their school. Knowing the school had previously flooded, we worked with the school to install a tile resembling wood. It was one of the best options for water resistance, knowing it would not buckle or lift.

school flooring

School districts are more frequently considering long-term costs for flooring applications, rather than initial costs – especially in high-traffic areas. While a material such as vinyl composition tile is initially more affordable, the longer-term maintenance upkeep results in a lower overall return on investment due to periodic waxing.

Our firm is seeing more owners utilizing tile in the main corridors. Administrators are seeing the benefits of using porcelain or terrazzo — it’s sturdier and more durable. Terrazzo can be customized to the campus’ unique brand and color scheme. It is also sustainable; terrazzo is composed of naturally occurring aggregates, recycled glass, plastic and processed cement or epoxy binders. The binders constitute approximately 25 to 30 percent of the volume of the flooring. The remainder of the floor is composed of aggregates, pigments and fillers. Initial life cycle assessments of embodied energy appear extremely favorable due to the longevity and low energy usage for maintenance.

When it comes to determining flooring surfaces, either hard or soft, we first focus on educational responsiveness and application. We abide by district standards, but encourage owners to remain knowledgeable about flooring applications so we can find the best possible solutions for their unique needs.

What to keep in mind when selecting flooring for high-traffic areas:

  • Function of space
  • Safety of students and staff
  • Durability / maintenance
  • Cost of material and labor
  • Integrating flooring with interior design

school flooring

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Richard Chi is Co-CEO of PBK and oversees the Design Studio. His strong commitment to the principles of design excellence, with emphasis on client service, has helped earn both regional and national acclaim for PBK’s projects. Richard has served as a dedicated leader and teacher in his profession, successfully completing over 300 educational projects for more than 150 educational institutions in relation to pre-kindergarten centers, elementary, junior high, high school, district administration centers, alternative education centers and higher education campuses.