When you walk through a school, do you hear the rhythmic clacking of heels on tile or terrazzo, or the muffled sound of shoes absorbed by carpeting? Do you feel the soft cushion of a carpet on your feet, or the solid touch of a hard surface? Do you see the luster of freshly waxed tile, or the muted tones of textile?

The answer to those questions depends on where you are in a facility and what choices designers, administrators, teachers, maintenance workers, parents and students made as the facility was planned and built.

“You get five million arguments about it,” says Alan Bigger, director of building services at the University of Notre Dame, Ind.

As they determine what kind of flooring to have, schools and universities need to consider a wide range of factors: the function of the space, aesthetics, maintainability, durability, comfort, acoustics, indoor air quality and cost.

“They all have their place,” says Tom Bates, managing principal of BLRB Architects in Tacoma, Wash. “There is not one miracle product. Different spaces have a variety of different functions.”

Different perspectives

Teachers, administrators, students, parents and custodians have different roles in a school building, and all of those stakeholders have priorities in determining what kinds of flooring surfaces they prefer in their schools.

“For people in operations, it's a question of what works,” says Bigger. “For others, it's a matter of what looks nice.”

Surfaces that can be maintained most effectively would naturally appeal to custodians responsible for daily flooring upkeep.

But schools are about more than easy-to-clean floors. Teachers and students might be inclined to prefer softer surfaces, especially in the classroom where they spend much of their time. Some parents and teachers may pay special attention to how flooring choices can affect indoor air quality, and the health of students and staff in a building. Others may focus on how flooring adds to the overall aesthetics of a building design. Administrators and designers try to balance all those wants and needs as they make flooring decisions.

“You try to help a school make informed decisions,” says Bates.