As students head back to the classroom after months of remote learning, there is a renewed focus on the best flooring for education spaces. With cleaning protocols and ease of maintenance still at the forefront, specifiers are now looking at flooring as a tool to also help with wayfinding and maintaining distance, allowing students and teachers to feel safe and supported during the school day.

In an education setting, color and pattern will not only provide visual interest but help with circulation throughout a space. “As we continue on into 2021, we see flooring as a design element to denote school branding, wayfinding, and social distancing,” said Tommy Miller, national market segment manager at Interface. “The visual hints provided by the floor can help us keep connected from a safe distance.”   

Decals made to be placed on the floor have become popular because they are reasonably priced and easy to use. Yet most flooring professionals agree that various design components can help us to delineate space or serve as a guidepost without having to add anything extra to the surface. “Utilizing flooring to promote wayfinding and social distancing will become increasingly important,” said Amanda O’Neil, director, commercial product management at Armstrong Flooring. The ability to use textures, shapes, and color to define zones can help with guidance, distancing, and the flow of traffic through a building.”   

Luxury vinyl tile continues to be in demand in the education sector because of its performance attributes and improved visuals. “LVT has come into play during the last few years,” explained Angela LuMaye, director of education and public works at Bentley. “We have seen it a lot in commercial and residential settings. Now, more so than ever, we are seeing it in education spaces as well. It’s easy to maintain, because you don’t have to buff or wax it. That’s a big plus for maintenance and operations departments, because it gives them more time to focus on students and the day-to-day running of the school.”   

Cleanability is still paramount, especially in areas where groups of children congregate. Dirt and germs spread quickly, so high-traffic zones are cleaned more often, especially during the pandemic. “With the focus on cleanability, minimizing areas where dirt can collect is becoming increasingly important,” O’Neil added. “For LVT, this could mean selecting a product with a minimal bevel, such as an eased edge, or eliminating transition strips between soft surface and hard surface by moving to a loose lay-type LVT that is thicker in overall gauge.”   

Expect to see a mix of hard and soft surface flooring to suit a variety of needs, noise reduction in particular. “Having carpet with acoustic properties and using those soft surfaces is going to continue,” LuMaye noted. “Prior to the pandemic, things were really moving toward a hard surface. Now, it has kind of circled back.”   

Reducing sound in noisy hallways and older buildings creates an optimal environment for learning and social interaction that is vital to students’ long-term success. “School facilities can minimize the impact of noise with sound-reducing flooring,” Miller said. “Interface’s carpet tile, LVT, and nora rubber flooring reduce sound, which helps students maintain concentration and attention. According to a recent study, four-millimeter rubber flooring is four times quieter than VCT.”  

Pops of vibrant color have always been used in schools to lift students’ moods and move away from an institutional, drab look. Hues and patterns with vitality will be a welcome sight to children who have been learning at home for an extended period and need a change of scenery. “Because LVT print and color capabilities continue to advance, we are able to create the same vibrant color VCT known for, with more versatility in pattern,” said Di Anna Borders, vice president of design, Armstrong Flooring. “Our new Theorem Luxury Flooring is a great example of this evolution. The fun geometric patterns are perfect for a dynamic learning setting.”   

Schools also want to select specific colors or renderings of their mascot as a way to show spirit, so demand for custom flooring is on the rise. “There have been a lot of requests for customization, especially if sites want to foster pride and a sense of community. We can achieve that with a design we create for them, incorporating school colors or logos,” LuMaye added.

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In places of learning, flooring can improve the student’s experience. “A student’s learning environment directly impacts their behavior, growth, engagement, retention, and desire to attend class,” Miller added. “Specifying superior flooring products can help shape the overall result an educational facility achieves.”