School sports flooring plays a pivotal role in keeping pupils fit and safe, says Nick Egan
The importance of sports and games in schools encompasses more than just the benefit of physical activity. It delivers an increase in self-esteem and mental alertness making school sports and games necessary for every schoolchild. Today, with health and fitness even more important than ever, it’s fundamental that children spend more time being active rather than solely sitting in front of a computer screen or games console.
It is imperative for school age children to have access to sports and games. Not only does it empower youth and promote higher self-esteem, it also motivates and potentially enables better grades. Numerous physical benefits include; maintaining a healthy weight, preventing chronic diseases, learning the skills necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle after leaving school and learning about the importance of team work.
The role played by providing the correct, fit-for-purpose sports flooring cannot be ignored or diluted in its importance to the overall performance for both the pupils/students and the school itself. Bearing all of this in mind, it’s no surprise that Sport England recently released a statement outlining that they were investing up to £3 million per year in schools, colleges and universities as well as investment that aims to keep young people active through key transitions in their lives. They want their investment to ensure that more children are better equipped for a physically active future.
Each year, local education authorities and school sports specifiers are faced with decisions. Which styles to choose? What trends to follow? Does this fashion have actual staying power, or will it be outdated in a few years? When installing a new sports facility, decision-makers should think about getting the most for their money and building something that will look great for many years to come. At the same time, it's also important to think about trends. Every industry has fads and fashions, and forward thinking school sports designers are no exception. The market is constantly changing. New products and techniques are developed as different sports become more popular. The economy also fluctuates, together with changing liability concerns that may come into play. All these factors should affect design decisions.
The newest choices in flooring focus on sustainability. The market shows increasing interest in sports flooring with sustainable characteristics and the ability to conserve energy. More attention is being paid to flooring that saves natural resources, reduces energy use, and includes recycled content. Floors with daily mopping routines and occasional automatic scrubbing with an environmentally friendly detergent demand a lot less energy than those which need to be sanded, stripped, screened, and refinished periodically, however, there is always a place for wooden floors.
Floors with the least amount of cleaning downtime also help schools use their facilities to the max. Floors with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds) also support the effort to create a healthier environment and allow facility managers to not worry about venting the space because of fumes from the floor, its adhesive, finish, or paint applied for game lines or logos. An additional consideration is safety, including improving finishes that minimise the risk of friction burns and help prevent bacteria and micro-organism growth and skin-related infections.
Vinyl flooring for school sports and athletic applications is available in both solid colours and wood looks, and comes in sheet formats. Sports PVC vinyl has good shock absorption properties, the correct coefficient of friction and ball rebound qualities, with some vinyl providing great all-round protection. A crucial factor where children are concerned.
If the flooring used in sports facilities is too hard, it will be less effective in reducing strains and injuries during physical activities. That’s a simple fact. Many sports activities involve jumping, turning around and twisting and only the correct specification of sports flooring can help prevent or minimise injuries when students fall. From early year’s multi-use halls, to senior school sports halls, the primary concern in the specification of school sports facilities must surely still be the prevention of injuries. Outside of the traditional flooring used in sports halls, there are good solutions for gyms, aerobic rooms, locker rooms and common areas. Some vinyl is also suitable for wet areas for barefoot and shoe applications.
There is a limited number of flooring material choices for basketball courts. Since basketball courts have a lifespan of up to 60 years with proper care, specification shouldn’t be made lightly. Maple is the most common choice for basketball courts, accounting for an estimated 95% of the wood used and almost all professional and school playing surfaces. Oak and bamboo are utilised as well. Some professional stadiums are oak, though few compared to overwhelming use of solid maple.
LONGEVITY AND PERFORMANCE
In today’s economy, school specifiers and local education authorities are bottom line conscious, but surprisingly, not all are choosing the cheapest way of doing things, say many contractors and installers. They are interested in a finished product that will last longer and work better even if it might cost a bit more up front. An emerging trend is where schools are more open to looking at their choices in terms of both longevity and performance.
Education authorities seeking the right flooring must weigh factors such as upfront costs and life-cycle costs, durability, and maintenance requirements. That’s just part of the equation. Other factors include the need for ‘multi-use’ sports flooring which facilitates different lessons and room uses, together with flooring for a variety of spaces in a school or outside area, as well as the aesthetic appeal. Then there’s green factor…and all of this in environments that take a pounding every single day.
Whether you're designing a new facility, or re-designing an existing one, we can never underestimate the impact that flooring can have in terms of design, sustainability and bio-friendliness and of course protecting those that use the facility. Whilst flooring must be practical, affordable and meet the specific programme and application needs, it must also be safe and user friendly.
Nick Egan is the UK Technical Manager for flooring and interiors specialist Gerflor.