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Feature Article - March 2017

Sizing Up Your Surface

Options Abound When You Want Performance & Durability

By Rick Dandes


Floor surfaces at some facilities, such as sports arenas, multiuse on-campus fieldhouses, or private and municipal fitness centers, are where aesthetics meets athletics. At the highest end, witness the beautifully designed maple hardwood basketball floors with their artistic logos, installed fresh and new every year at the site of the NCAA men's and women's basketball championship.

But whatever the size of the recreational space or the limits of your budget, sports flooring manufacturers today are producing a wide variety of viable surfaces at various price points that can easily pass the eye test, while still meeting the needs and safety requirements of your clientele.

"Those of us who represent manufacturers realize that as facility owners or managers, you're always out for your members' best interests. That begins by looking to reduce the likelihood of head injury and concussion, which has become a hot-button issue over the past several years," suggested Joel McCausland, regional director of an Amasa, Mich.-based court surface manufacturer.

Members and visitors to your facility will walk, run, jump and sweat all over the floor; drop weights on it and generally abuse the surface on a daily basis. So finding the right flooring to accommodate client safety and all other activities cannot be an overlooked element of your facility's structure. "Still, keep in mind that no matter what the system is made of—wood or synthetic materials like modular tiles or poured-in-place urethane—manufacturers have to comply with certain standards. All sports floors must meet criteria for safety, shock absorption and traction," McCausland said.

Given all the options and taking into consideration your budget, "If you're about to upgrade or even install a completely new flooring system, your buying decision may well come down to personal preference for who will ultimately be playing on the surface," said John Gleason, manager of field services, for a Utica, N.Y.-based manufacturer of modular floors.

An Array of Options

The top sports flooring companies in the world understand the precise science that can produce a flooring system that gives you high-quality performance and durability. At the highest end are hardwood floors, a durable and long-lasting surface that can last for 30 to 40 years with proper care, McCausland explained.

The best hardwood surfaces come from northern hardrock maple, which is grown north of the 40th parallel, where long, cold winters give you slow growth and a really dense surface, if you were to look at a cross-section of the log cut in those forests. The rings are very close together, which makes it dense, firm, strong and durable.

"If you look at a hardwood floor from the top," McCausland said, "it looks almost the same, but the key to a great hardwood sports floor is the subfloor system beneath it. You lay this maple strip down, and it's a beautiful floor that you can paint and treat and create really nice-looking courts."

But the real key to the performance of that floor is what it is built upon, a great subbase. The best of those subfloor systems maximize shock absorption; they give resilience, a kind of a bounce to the floor, and finish on the top that gives you the right kind of traction and other key performance characteristics that are required for active playing competition.

Synthetics are a bit more cost-effective, are easier to maintain and have the ability to be resurfaced for less money than the wood option, said Joe Banks, marketing coordinator for a Lancaster, Pa.-based sports flooring manufacturer and installer. "If a facility isn't considering a competitive basketball sports floor," he said, "the synthetic floor will open up that space and allow for a more cost-effective sports surface than traditional wood."

You can break down synthetic flooring into broad categories, added Steve Hayes, regional sales manager of a Peshtigo, Wis.-based sports flooring producer. "One is a prefabricated sports floor. Essentially, something that would come out in rolls or tiles. And would be installed on site using an adhesive. You would glue the rolls or the tiles to an existing concrete floor."

The benefit of having this flooring, Hayes contends, is you are receiving flooring that has been manufactured in a factory-controlled environment. "So you have consistency, from a thickness and a color perspective and from the perspective of some of the things that they can do in a factory-controlled environment that can't be done when you are manufacturing it in the field."

For example, Hayes continued, you can have prefabricated rubber sports flooring or vinyl sports flooring. You can have prefabricated modular tiles. So, there are a lot of different product types on the prefabricated product side.

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