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Sports Flooring: On Solid Ground

How to select the ideal flooring materials for your worship center's sports facility

When you're building or renovating your worship center's sports facility, flooring materials are an important consideration. Since most floors are designed to last 15-25 years, a sports floor is a long-term investment. Many factors must be considered before you make your final decision.

"Serious athletes prefer a good wood floor," says Dennis Ehrman, president of Wheaton, Illinois-based Church Building Consultants Inc. However, the long-term maintenance costs of a wood floor, which requires re-finishing with a new layer of polyurethane every two to four years, may not be affordable to many churches. Additionally, a standard wood gym floor will not hold up as well to other uses, from extensive foot traffic to refreshments spills and even folding chairs that could mar the finish. If your church's sports facility is going to be used as a multi-purpose space, which many are, builders, architects, and flooring manufacturers alike recommend synthetic alternatives. Possibilities include liquid-applied synthetic floors, sheet flooring in rubber or vinyl, or vinyl tile.

Facts Afoot
Dave Dillon of Architectural Floor Systems Inc. (AFS), based in Arlington Heights, Illinois, says his company's two most popular athletic floors are the TaraFlex SportM and the TaraFlex 50, both vinyl sheet products suitable for multi-purpose spaces. "If the space is used primarily for worship and, as a secondary function, for sport, we use the 5.0. If the facility is mainly used for sports, we recommend the SportM."

With 7mm worth of padding, vs. 5mm, the SportM offers 37% shock absorption vs. 26%. "That additional 10%, for an athlete, translates into less wear and tear on the joints and decreases the possibility of injury from a fall," Dillon reports. For facility managers and designers who want the look of real wood without the maintenance, these products come in maple and oak finishes.

Taraflex's Wood Visual look is created with an actual photograph of maple or oak wood grain integrated into the top layer, creating a more authentic look.

Vinyl and wood floors offer an optimized co-efficient of friction for athletes, creating less wear and tear on athlete's joints over time.

However, the Mondo Advanced line of rubber sports flooring, often specified by interior designer Sary Em with Penndel, Pennsylvania-based WPHArchitects for Ministry, has a matte satin finish, which, according to the company, provides the "ideal coefficient of friction" for basketball, volleyball, and other common activities that take place in a gymnasium. The top-of-the-line Competition model has been "biomechanically tuned" for competition basketball and volleyball, while the Gymnasium model, with 8 mm of padding, is optimized for comfort and safety.

Keep Carpet in the Hallways
Em notes an industry-wide shift away from sports carpeting, which used to be common in multi-purpose sports facilities. Along with others in the industry, Em used to believe that sports carpet provided "the best of both worldsthe traditional look of carpet and a functional gymnasium floor."

However, due to safety concerns, church builders have moved away from sports carpeting; if you use sports carpeting in your current facility, it may be time to consider an upgrade. Not only does sports carpeting cause a greater chance of scrapes, "rug burns," and broken skin if an athlete falls, but if an athlete bleeds on the carpet, by law it must be treated as a haz-mat (hazardous materials) situation and be cleaned accordingly.

Today's synthetic flooring materials usually feature an antibacterial surface applied to the product which can reduce the risk of infection, but proper and rapid clean-up is still necessary if an open wound or scrape occurs on the floor.

What's Underneath Your Floor?
"A multi-purpose floor is only as good as the concrete subfloor it is going over," says Joe Corbett, national sales manager for sports at AFS. "If the concrete slab is not perfectly flat or level, a liquid-applied floor can pool' during installation, making it thicker or thinner in certain areas and affecting performance and safety."

The right padding will also increase the safety and comfort of your athletes. "A church can save money by going to padded vinyl tile," Ehrman says, "but I don't think they should ever compromise on the pad. With children falling, you want to have an absorptive floor."

Most wood floors float on rubber grommets, giving them a built-in cushion of air for shock absorption. Vinyl and other synthetic products feature a foam pad; the thickness of the padding will determine the floor's absorptive abilities. "Vinyl tile without a pad is just as hard as concrete," Ehrman warns.

Finally, if your sports facility is used for worship services as well, the padding will act as acoustical treatment to help dampen the otherwise live room. "Gymnasiums are traditionally loud, live spaces, with parallel surfaces that reflect the sound all over the room; a foam-backed floor provides some sound absorption," Ehrman explains.

Eco-Friendly Options
As more and more churches look at "green" or eco-friendly installation solutions during their building project or renovation, flooring manufacturers, too, are developing new products made from recycled products. So far, however, these surfaces are primarily used in hallways and corridors, as well as in weight rooms or outside in playgrounds or on athletic tracks.

Corbett states that AFS manufactures EnviroFlor PVC-free rubber flooring solutions, while Mondo offers the EcoFill Star line. These products could work well in a multi-purpose space that is used infrequently as a gymnasium, especially if you don't want the traditional look of a gym floor and are willing to select, instead, a neutral color scheme that will blend in well with the rest of your facility. Made from recycled content, these floors have low VOC emissions, which means they are not releasing toxic fumes into the indoor air, and they meet the strictest environmental guidelines. These rubber floors also last longer than other flooring solutions. Best of all, the cost is not that much higher than traditional synthetic flooring products.

AFS's Taraflex floors contain recycled material and, compared to wood floors, require less water and no stripping agents to maintain. The company also supplies hardwood floors manufactured by Haro Sports, which use seven times less "slow growth" hardwood than conventional strip maple floors, decreasing the product's impact on natural resources.

As new developments create even more flexibility in the look and feel of eco-friendly floors, options should expand. On the bright side, sports facility floors are long-term investments, which means even if you opt to install a conventional sports floor, all that PVC and plastic won't see the landfill for decades.

TAGS: Design
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