Feature Article - July/August 2004
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Special Supplement:
Recreation Management’s Complete Guide to Sports Surfaces and Flooring

By Margaret Ahrweiler

Play the research game

After assessing your needs, it's time to do your homework. The most important work of flooring research? Play. That's right, don't just stand on floors that are meant for movement—get out there and play, advises Mary Chappel, who should know. As director of recreation services at the University of Kansas, she oversaw the flooring selections for every inch of the 100,000-square-foot Student Recreation Fitness Center, a new student-funded facility that opened in the fall. Play on as many different types of floors as you can, she suggests. Better yet, bring a group of people to play along. As part of three years of planning, Chappel assembled a research team that included facility managers, design and building team, and most importantly, groups of fearless students willing to travel and sweat for their future rec center.

Chappel dispatched her team of testers to hundreds of facilities across the country. They played volleyball, shot hoops, worked out in fitness areas, climbed walls, jumped through aerobics classes and lifted weights. With every visit, they charted their experiences and narrowed their choices.

And at every stop, they asked questions: Who is the manufacturer? What type of system? What thickness? What did you want out of your floor? How has maintenance worked? Are you happy with your choice?

Don't just look at new facilities, either, advises Karen Bean, ASID, a designer with TMP Associates in Bloomfield, Mich. She suggests looking at older facilities to see how their surfaces have aged. Have they become worn? How have they handled the high-traffic areas? Can you find any dead spots?

The KU team ultimately decided the types of floors they wanted: wood resilient system for the gym, sheet goods for the running track, 3/8-inch vulcanized rubber tiles for weight areas and cushioned wood floors with mats for group fitness. Next, they narrowed their choices to a few different types of floors in each category and made their final selections.

Another way to test flooring choices is by visiting manufacturers' testing facilities, Matthys says. Most flooring companies, especially the largest, offer testing sites where prospective buyers can—literally—jump from one type of surface to the next. This makes it easier to understand what comes with the cost premiums, he notes: Your feet, knees and basketball may tell you why one system costs a dollar per square foot more. The downside of these showrooms? You're limited to only one brand, and you can only look at the difference between product lines, not two similar systems by competing manufacturers.


The University of Kansas research team for its Student Recreation Fitness Center developed a good relationship with a wood floor distributor, who recommended a synthetic floor broker. She, in turn, suggested a relatively new brand of synthetic whose performance has impressed the KU team.

For large-scale projects, such as at the KU Student Fitness Recreation Center, manufacturers who stand to earn huge contracts—KU put down 32,000 square feet of wood competition gym floors alone—may offer to pay your expenses to test their products. While that can ease constantly strained budgets, Chappel advises against taking such perks.

"We paid our way to everything," she says. "We didn't want to feel obligated or beholden to anybody."