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Feature Article - April 2014

Surfacing 101

Find the Finest Flooring to Fit Your Facility

By Rick Dandes


Whether you are planning to build a new gymnasium or upgrade an older one, the decisions you'll have to make are numerous, but none are more important than choosing the right sports surface---a flooring that is comfortable for standing, running, jumping and even falling.

Begin by looking for an expert sports flooring manufacturer or sports flooring contractor to learn all you can about sports surfaces. The flooring expert can help you decide what floor surface will work best for your needs, wood or synthetic. A well-educated owner is best able to select the correct floor for their situation. The type of your facility generally will dictate what type of floor is specified. If the facility is for competitive basketball, the preferred surface is wood. If the facility is multipurpose, then synthetic is often the choice of the owner.

Ultimately, as with most things in this economy, a final decision will come down to not only functionality and aesthetics, but also price.

"Consider this," said Jeff Williams, director of sports at a flooring manufacturer in Peshtigo, Wis. "A high school competition gymnasium will be used almost exclusively for games and practices and seldom used for non-athletic functions. Wood is the typical choice here. An elementary school might be used more for non-athletic functions like fun fairs, garage or rummage sales—much more multipurpose use. Here a synthetic floor might be a better option than a wood floor."

Understanding how the gymnasium is going to be used will help you select the right floor system, Williams added. This process is the same for schools, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, parks and recreation departments and churches. Once a type of surface has been selected, the sports flooring professional can begin to educate the owner on options for the best flooring choices, like performance floors or multipurpose floors.

Sports performance, ease of maintenance, durability and versatility are all factors most decision-makers actively consider. If the floor won't do the job, even if it's free, it's not worth it. Conversely, if it does a great job but the owner can't afford it, it's irrelevant. Once a floor has been found that fits your budget and meets your performance requirements, then it's simply a matter of choosing the finished look you want.

"I look for flexibility. But, I must also make sure to consider factors such as skid resistance, resiliency and other factors that affect player safety," said Matt Williams, CEO, AAU / Jam on It, of Sparks, Nev., a full-service basketball program for recreational and competitive basketball players. "And, of course, cost of labor is also a major factor in the programs I offer. I have to be able to hire a crew, lay down flooring, pick it up, put it on a truck and then ship it to the next venue, all within hours. I also have to offer different customers—some at the pro basketball or college level—different kinds of sports surfaces."

The type of facility will dictate what type of floor is specified, Williams said, agreeing with other experts.

If the facility is for competitive basketball, he explained, "the preferred surface is wood. Maple hardwood is the traditional choice for basketball, and you'll find more hardwood courts than any other type of indoor sports flooring."

Make sure that your hardwood floor is a high-performing floor that delivers very uniform shock absorption across all parts of the surface. That's a specific question to ask the manufacturer. The owner should look at a variety of systems to see which one they like best.

The prevalence of hardwood makes it preferred for competitive sports players and their coaches. Teams want to play on the same type of surface at home and away. Younger players also want to be accustomed to hardwood as they advance toward professional competition. The downside to hardwood is higher maintenance costs and less versatility. For this reason, Williams said, wood-patterned vinyl has become a good alternative.