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When the North Carolina-based architectural firm of Hayes-Howell, P.A. was faced with the challenge of brightening up a 32-year-old high school, highlighting its public spaces, and keeping maintenance costs down, it turned to a solution that continues to increase in educational as well as many other commercial environments: the use of resilient flooring.
Based in Southern Pines, NC, with a branch in High Point, the 49-year-old architectural firm is well known in its area for its work in educational facilities, ranging from elementary and high schools to colleges and universities.
A case in point is Sanderson High School, an 1,800-student facility located in Raleigh, NC. Originally constructed in 1968, this 260,000-square-foot, two-story facility recently underwent an $18 million renovation.
According to K.C. Underwood, the Hayes-Howell principal in charge of the project, the original school was "standard" for its time. "It was a very straightforward, well-constructed, brick building," he states, "except for the fact that is was all vanilla. There was no hierarchy of space, no wayfinding cues, and no color except for a blue stripe along the walls. All the surfaces were essentially the same color, beige.
"Based on the existing inventory of conditions, it was evident that the school needed everything new," he continues. "As a result, we took it back to its walls and basically started over." The student body was moved off campus for a year while the work was being done.
Objective Was to Infuse Sense of Fun
"Our main objective was to infuse a sense of fun into the building," Underwood explains. "In order to do that, we tried to make the public spaces, such as the dining area, main lobby and media center, more memorable. We wanted to make each of them a landmark within the school. We also wanted to break up the extremely long corridors and create a sense of way finding throughout the school."
One of the means by which Underwood and the Hayes Howell team accomplished its goals was the creative use of the floor. "The original floor was basically a field of one color throughout the entire school," he explains. "In order to brighten things up and make the building a happier place to be in, we knew we had to use much more color and pattern. Our challenge, however, was to create this visual interest on a standard budget."
Underwood began by introducing the school colors --red and blue--into the school’s floors. All north-south corridors in the school now feature a running blue pattern with red accents, while all east-west corridors feature red with blue accents. "This not only introduces color into the space, but also helps the students know what direction they are going in as they move along in a mass of humanity."
Corridors Needed a More Human Scale
Underwood also believed it was important to break down the corridors. "The corridors are very long and narrow," he notes. "We needed to have a more human scale and needed to make them more vibrant." To help achieve this objective, the architectural team placed a strip or block of contrasting-colored flooring perpendicular to the running pattern wherever there was a portal.
"We wanted to signal every portal, regardless of whether it was an entrance to a classroom or to one of the public spaces." By interrupting the running pattern as they do, the blocks of color function as "visual welcome mats" at the entrance to each space.
Underwood also notes that the floor is not without some whimsy. "Robert Anderson of our firm designed the floor. He wanted to add color to the building, he wanted to highlight entrances to spaces, and he wanted to add some whimsical elements. Judging by the finished product, he accomplished all his goals."
Vinyl in Classrooms Instead of Carpet
Underwood also notes that while the classrooms in the original school were all floored with vinyl composition tile, school system guidelines at the time of the renovation called for the use of carpet in classrooms. Sanderson High School’s principal, however, preferred vinyl because of its ease of maintenance.
"The maintenance crew was accustomed to certain equipment and procedures," Underwood says, "and stain removal was not one of them. The time and cost of labor for maintenance was simply going to be too high. As a result, the principal succeeded in having the standard changed to vinyl."
Architect Used Vinyl Composition Tile
Once the standard was changed, Imperial Texture vinyl composition tile from Armstrong was installed in all the classrooms as well as the corridors. Available in 70 colors, Imperial Texture tiles feature a "through-pattern" construction, which means the color and pattern extend throughout the thickness of the tile. This prevents the creation of traffic lanes, and ensures that the tile’s color and design will last the life of the floor.
In regard to color, the Hayes-Howell team used five Imperial Texture colors on the high school floor: Cherry Red and Caribbean Blue to mirror the school colors, Washed Linen as the primary neutral, and Classic Black and Charcoal to match the new, glazed black and unglazed gray-black bricks that now enclose the corridor columns
Uneven Substrate Most Difficult Problem
According to Underwood, the most difficult part of the flooring renovation was dealing with the existing substrate, which was a concrete slab that had been out of tolerance from the time it was originally poured. "When you have a 200-foot corridor, it’s very easy to see every dip," he states, "so we had to repair it. A significant amount of leveling had to be done before we could install the new floor."
And, when it came to the actual installation, Underwood notes that his firm generated color drawings of the floor rather than a standard blueprint. "Due to the whimsical nature of the floor pattern, we felt the color version would be much easier for the flooring contractor to follow than a blueprint."
Reflecting on the project, Underwood notes that from an architectural point of view, "It was really exciting to be involved in such a complete makeover. To be able to update a solid, but dull, building into such a vibrant, new building that includes elements of architectural articulation was indeed rewarding. We knew we had done a successful job when we saw the students, faculty and staff come back with such smiles on their faces. They just couldn’t believe it was the same school.