Special Supplement: Complete Guide to Sports Surfaces and Flooring

Something's Afoot

By Kara Spak

Think back to the last time you shopped for athletic shoes.

You're standing in the store, the cold, harsh glare of a fluorescent light beaming down on you from above. Salespeople bustle back and forth. Plastic towers of shoes face you. Dozens and dozens of shoes, all shapes, sizes, colors and purpose, are ripe for the picking.

Did you need shoes for running on a treadmill? Sprinting on a track? Hiking on a mountain trail? Power walking? Biking with clip-on pedals or without? Would you be playing tennis in your new shoes, or doing aerobics?

Picking the right shoes, after all, is not about what looks good. It's about performance enhancement, and it's about safety.

Once you decide which column of brand new display shoes you're going to focus on at the athletic store, you've got a host of new decisions that may not be any easier.

What brands of shoes fit best for you? What color? What style? What price point?

With dozens of brands on the markets in a wide array of styles that offer specialty features for any sport out there, it's easy to get overwhelmed. And that's just for your feet.

Imagine now you're selecting something else that is going to be run on, played on, jumped on or worked-out on.

Performance and safety are also critical elements here.

Color and style are almost as important.

But instead of spending $90 on a pair of shoes that only you have to live with, you are planning a new sports surface for hundreds of athletes and patrons that likely will cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

Overwhelmed? Don't be. A little research and a lot of thoughtful planning can go a long way to making that sports surface—be it a tennis court, track, indoor or outdoor field, weight room, playground or whatever venue you can think of—a real asset to your community.

Sally Cottingham, president of a sports flooring company in Chicago, says the first step you need to take is figuring out what will be taking place on the new surface.

"Will you be weight-training? Will it be multipurpose?" Cottingham asks. "You have to pick the surface based on what sport will be happening there."

A common answer is multipurpose, Cottingham says. After all, you want to maximize the use of your new investment. But don't stop there—the next step is narrowing down the meaning of that word.

"Is it going to be used 85 percent of the time for basketball? For tennis?" she asks. "The owner needs to know, really needs to give a good idea of how it is going to be used."

Cottingham knows floors, and not just as president of a sports flooring company, an industry she has worked in for 19 years. As a college tennis player, she played on a variety of surfaces.

"I never even thought about it," she says of the sports surfaces she played on during her days as a collegiate-level athlete.

These days, though, it's something she thinks about all the time, working with clients like the University of Chicago on the sports surfaces at the school's field house.

Flooring always has been important, but as even amateur sports become more competitive, floor performance and design have become even more crucial elements.

Carol Hogan, executive vice president of the American Sports Builders Association, agrees that the group or person installing the new surface needs to figure out exactly what is going to be happening there first.

"I think the most important thing really is to understand the many options and understand what use you're going to put the surface to," Hogan says.

She suggests then narrowing it down by asking if there will be staff present to maintain it, like at a professional-style tennis club, or if the surface will be open for anyone to use it, like a tennis court at a public park where people may come to play recreational tennis, but they also might use it for skateboarding or as a fenced-in dog run.

"Be realistic about your needs," Hogan says. "This is about understanding your options and choosing the best choice for you."

Hogan says selecting good partners to take the surface journey with you will help get you to your destination, on time and on budget.

"Very often public projects require you use the low bid," she says. "But if the low bidder doesn't know what they are doing, that is not a good value. People look at tennis courts and see a rectangle and think, 'How hard can that be?' I build driveways. I can do that. Well, not really because there is a degree of perfection required by athletic surfaces that is far greater than a parking lot and driveway."

An expert needs to know where to draw the markings and properly put down the surface or else your new court, field or track could suddenly become a safety hazard.

"You have to know what the lines are," she says. "You have to know the safety considerations. You really need someone who is familiar with athletic design and construction."

Water management is also key regardless of what type of surface you are using. Shoes and boots track water into indoor facilities just as easily as rain falls on an outdoor field or tennis court. Regulating the amount of water can be a vital component of surface maintenance. It can also be a somewhat complicated one.

"There are more and more regulations regarding water management," Hogan says. "There are regulations by the local government. There are regulations about runoff, pollution, hazardous materials, wetlands and endangered species."

Hire someone who is aware of the regulations and who can work easily with them to design a drainage system that meets all the requirements but still can protect the surface.

"This is not for someone who doesn't know what they're doing," she says.

The American Sports Builders Association offers a competitive awards program designed to encourage excellence in construction. Hogan says the awards are given for a number of factors, but the amount of money spent is not one of them. You can have an award-winning facility—and a spectacular surface—within your budget.

Start your journey to floor perfection by asking yourself the following questions:

USE: What will you use the floor for? Who will play on the floor? What requirements do you need to meet so your floor can be played on at certain levels of play? If you plan to use the floor for multipurpose uses, is there one sport that will be used for the majority of time?

COST: How much does the floor cost initially? How much will maintenance cost? Break the costs down by total cost and per use cost—which is lower? Which is more important to you or your organization? How much will the surface cost in terms of people power? Does the surface need to be monitored? Will additional staff be needed?

LOOK: What type of look are you seeking? Do you want it to look modern? Vintage? Colorful? What are the limitations in terms of designs for a particular flooring material? How does it look under existing lighting? How easily does it clean or hold dirt?

INSTALLATION: Can your staff install the floor to perfection? Can the manufacturer install it? How much will this cost? Will you need to close part of your facility for installation? If yes, for how long? How will you let people know of the potential closures?

LASTING SURFACES: How long does your surface last? How long will it last if not properly maintained? How long will is last if used as you plan to use it?

SAFETY: What are the safety requirements for a particular surface? Does your surface meet safety requirements? If not, how will you ensure safe use of the area?

PERFORMANCE: What are the performance requirements you are hoping to meet? Does the surface meet them? Does the top-performing floor meet the needs you have established for the area?

Design to impress

Alex Levitsky is a principle at the New Jersey-based Colonel Sports and Tennis Design Group. Choosing a floor designer, he says, is like scrutinizing any other component.

"When you're looking for a designer for a specific project, choose them like any contractor," he says. "Choose them based on the person's experience and the kind of work you're planning to have done."

Ask for references and the length of time they have been in the sports design business, he says. After running the designer through the typical checks and balances to ensure you're working with someone reputable, start thinking creatively.

Don't worry if you are not an artist. You do not need to be. A good designer can take your creative ideas and bring them to life on your athletic surface.

"The designs that they do and the ideas that they share should be things that you identify with or are exciting to you," Levitsky says.

There's also the personality issue.

"The person who you are dealing with should be a person who identifies with your needs and values," he says.

Levitsky says a bit of Internet surfing can identify manufacturers you might deal with and the variety of products offered on the market. Manufacturers push their products.

A design professional can be a more neutral repository of studied opinions.

Take it another step further, though, and shop around for unbiased information.

Visit other facilities and check out their floors. Make a list—what do you like? What don't you like? Do you have concerns about one aspect or another of the surface? Ask the facility director you are visiting about performance and maintenance.

"Very often depending on what kind of project it is you can take a look at similar facilities," he says. "You can share insights on maintenance that you might not have thought of."

Questions for the tennis court

Hogan of the American Sports Builders Association says the reason tennis's Grand Slam Tournament is so fascinating is because it places the games on four different playing surfaces with four distinct playing characteristics.

"The person who plays well on one may or may not play well on the other," she says. "Playing on a clay surface is a slower game but one with more strategy. Games on grass or acrylic-coated hard court are very fast. That game then is about being athletic and getting to the ball."

Though you may not be hosting a Grand Slam-caliber tournament on your tennis court, think about who your players are likely to be. Hogan says older players who use the sport as a social outing, maybe passing the ball back and forth in mixed doubles while chit-chatting, may like the American clay soft court.

Those really looking for a hard-core workout, though, may prefer to play on a hard court.

Outdoor tennis court options include the popular fast-dry court, also known as American clay. This is different then the red clay played upon at the French Open, Hogan says. American clay is in fact made of crushed basalt or crushed tile and is a popular option for many looking for a solid tennis court surface.

"A lot of people like that surface because it allows you to slide," Hogan says. "It makes for a strategy game."

Additional benefits of the American clay (fast-dry) court is that its surface cushions legs, and water evaporates off of it, which helps to keep the court area cool.

But like all surfaces, there are some considerations to keep in mind, Hogan says.

"If you choose that surface you, have to understand the downside," she says. "It is easily damaged by things like skateboards and dirt bikes. It can get scratched up, with grooves. It can become not playable."

Hogan says you also need water in that surface to play correctly, indicating you need either underground irrigation or a sprinkler system designed to keep some moisture on the surface.

"What that means is that because water is involved, the court has to be closed in the winter because you can't irrigate it when it's frozen," she says.

Another option for your tennis court surface is the soft court. The most common soft court, Hogan says, features an unbound surface. Some soft courts have a bonded surface of coated asphalt or concrete.

The soft court is a popular option because it can be played in all kinds of weather.

"As long as it doesn't have snow on it you can play on it," she says. "You can play year-round."

The soft-court surface is harder to damage, though she notes that any surface can be damaged.

"You have to understand what your options are," she explains. "Can I maintain it? Can I secure it?"

She also says to keep in mind what other possible programming will be on the court.

Resources to Remember
  • Need help with general questions about your sports surface? Call the American Sports Builders Association toll-free help line at 866-501-ASBA (2722). You also can e-mail your questions to info@sportsbuilders.org. This industry group was formerly known as the U.S. Tennis Court and Track Builders Association. You also can find a design professional or a builder/manufacturer at the ASBA Web site, www.asba.org.

  • Looking for a qualified architect to help turn your dream project into reality? Log on to the Web site for the American Institute for Architects, www.aia.org/architect_finder; the searchable database will let you browse by both zip code and the type of project you are doing.

  • For information about playground safety, including details about the safest types of playground surfaces, visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission at www.cpsc.gov. The Web site also has great age-appropriate safety information for children while playing.

  • Maple flooring is known as nature's perfect sports floor. Learn more about wood athletic floors at www.maplefloor.org, the Maple Floor Manufacturers Association Web site.

  • The latest on polyurethane flooring can be found at www.polyurethane.org, the Web site for the Alliance for the Polyurethane Industries.

  • For information about track specifications for the high school, collegiate or national level visit:

    National Federation of State High School Associations www.nfhs.org

    National Collegiate Athletic Association www.ncaa.org

    USA Track and Field www.usatf.org

  • The International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association's mission is "to represent and promote an open market for manufacturers of playground equipment and surfacing." For more information, visit www.ipema.org.
  • Learn about the effects of playing soccer on artificial turf at www.fifa.com, the Web site for the International Soccer Federation.
  • oTips on caring and maintaining carpets and rugs can be found at the Web site for the Carpet and Rug Institute, www.carpet-rug.com.

Field of dreams

If you are looking at building a field for sports like football, soccer, lacrosse, rugby, softball or baseball, the big question is an obvious one—natural grass or synthetic turf?

Though it is a simple question, it does not make it any easier to answer.

Synthetic turf used to wear the moniker "maintenance-free," Hogan says. That's a misnomer, she says, though it requires significantly less maintenance than a natural grass field.

"It's not really maintenance-free," she explains. "But you can have football in the morning, soccer in the afternoon and band practice on it after. You can almost have [24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week] use of the field."

Using a natural grass field that much will tear it up, she says.

"You will have bare skinned areas," she says. "It will become a mud pit. It is grass—living things need to recover."

And any homeowner with a yard is familiar with the fertilizing, watering, mowing and grooming required to keep a lawn looking fresh and neat.

Synthetic turf, though, will cost you more initially then a grass field. But because you can use it more often, the per-use cost may be less with synthetic turf than natural grass.

With a grass field, be aware of the water management and drainage issues, particularly if the field is ringed by a track.

The fertilizer, chalk lines and pest controls used to maintain the field can be damaging for the track if the runoff from the field soaks it repeatedly. Everything you need for a well-maintained and manicured field, she says, can be potentially hazardous to the life expectancy of your track.

"Imagine all of that going over and crossing the track where the track meets the field," Hogan says. "This has the ability to destroy the track."

These chemicals can delaminate the track, a nightmare for those charged with track maintenance and upkeep.

"The coating or rubber surface will separate from the pavement below," she says. "It will peel off like skin when you get a sunburn."

Grass fields are usually crowned in the middle, or about 12 inches higher in the middle than on the ends.

"It's significantly higher in the middle so the water doesn't pool there," she says. "The water runs to the edges where the track is."

Simply put? You need drainage to protect the track's surface and longevity.

Track time

Most tracks are 400 meters and either oval or round.

Sounds easy, right? It's not.

"Tracks are very complex," Hogan says. "You can have two straightaways with two curves or four straightaways with four curves," known as a compound radius track, which is more commonly found circling around soccer fields.

"Some are short and fat," she says. "Some are long and lean...The shapes and inclination are very, very complicated."

The shape of the track needs to be specific. So do drainage systems needed to ensure the proper level of water is in—or out of—the track. Be sure to choose track and field designers and builders with care, she says.

There are three separate governing bodies for track and field events, each of which sets standards regarding track quality—the National Federation of State High School Associations, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and USA Track and Field. Hogan recommends selecting an expert track builder to ensure that you meet the standards of whichever governing body your facility aspires to.

"All three promulgate rules about the same events that in some cases are consistent and some are different," Hogan says. "For athletes at the high school level, they are younger and less experienced. You can make modifications to make it easier for the younger athletes."

If you do not pay attention to the specifications of the different governing bodies for track and field, you are limiting yourself to how your new track and field facility can be used.

"If you have someone who really doesn't know what they are doing, you can get a product that doesn't meet the [associations'] requirements," Hogan says, adding this can really limit the events you can host.

Hogan also issued a buyer-beware regarding track stripers, or those who contract out to lay the lane stripes on the tracks. There is currently a shortage of track stripers, she says, and the high demand for the services has made track striping a lucrative industry.

"This has caused a lot of people to come into the market who don't know what they're doing," she says. It could cause your track to not meet the qualification of the track governing body to which you aspire. It could also potentially become dangerous for athletes.

Price Points

Cost is a factor in any sports facility, and the cost of flooring is no exception. Here is a breakdown of average capital costs, including installation, according to product type.

These figures can vary significantly according to where you are building, total square footage of the product, labor rates, job-site challenges and the raw materials market, among other variables. The figures do not include the cost of sub-base.

Type (cost/square foot)
Hardwood Floors
Anchored/fixed floor system $9-$12
Resilient/floating floor system $7-$11
Combination anchored/resilient $10-$14
Indoor Synthetic Surfaces
Interlocking polypropylene tiles $5.50-$6.50
PVC sheet goods with foam backing/
6.5mm to 8mm thick
Rubber sheet goods/10mm thick $8-$9
Full-pour polyurethane/10mm surface thickness $6-$7
Sandwich systems/9mm + 2mm (11mm) thickness $6.50-$7.50
Outdoor Synthetic Turf
Two-inch pile height polyethylene
infilled with rubber or sand/rubber
Two-inch pile height polyethylene
infilled with rubber or sand/rubber
with a 8-10mm prefabricated rubber pad
Knitted nylon over closed-cell foam pad* $8-$9
Knitted nylon over 19mm e-layerd* $10-$10.50
*Note: knitted nylon predominantly for field hockey applications
Outdoor Running Track Surfaces
3/8-inch black Latex $12-$15
1/2-inch colored latex $20-$25
1/2-inch polyurethane black mat $17-$18
1/2-inch polyurethane black mat
with structural spray
1/2-inch polyurethane black mat
with seal layer and structural spray
1/2-inch polyurethane sandwich system $38-$42
1/2-inch full-pour polyurethane system $48-$55
1/2-inch vulcanized rubber sheet good $65-$70

Note: "Budgetary" pricing courtesy of Moose Sports Surfaces, Ltd. in Chicago; Designer Showcase Specialty Flooring in Lombard, Ill.; Track Surfaces in St. Charles, Ill.; All American Sports Group, LLC in Rockland, Mass.

Figures reflect 2006 installations.

Real life: A case study in Elgin, Ill.

One facility, many kinds of floors

In the late 1990s, recreation officials in Elgin, Ill., asked residents through a survey what they were looking for from the city's department of parks and recreation.

The answer was clear, direct and resounding. More than 70 percent of residents says they wanted a recreation center, a central gathering place for residents in this growing city of nearly 100,000 to swim, run, exercise, dance and play.

In 2002, Elgin residents got what they asked for in a big, bold way. The city opened The Centre of Elgin, an 184,772-square-foot building on six acres that cost the city more than $40 million to construct, a figure that included building an adjacent parking lot as well as repairing and sprucing up surrounding streets.

The Centre of Elgin includes everything from birthday party rooms to a climbing wall, a woman's exercise area known as Centrecise to a weight room, and a 1/8-mile indoor running track to a natatorium with three different pools. The facility also includes a preschool, banquet room and meeting space.

The Centre of Elgin is an enormous facility—at the time it was built, it was believed to be the largest publicly owned recreation center in Illinois.

The number-one priority when putting together the different rooms and amenities was—you guessed it—the flooring, says David Lawry, the city's general services group director.

"Flooring makes the room," Lawry says.

Your community or organization may not be looking to build a facility as grand as The Centre of Elgin. You may be only looking at building a gym or a climbing wall. But a tour through The Centre of Elgin to look at the different flooring, the rational behind those choices, and what has worked and what has not proves instructive for those looking to invest or upgrade sports surfaces for a wide variety of recreation venues.

Like many communities, how The Centre was going to be paid for was and is still an issue. There were concerns that the facility was costing way too much—some council members at the time had hoped the final product would be around $20 million, not twice that amount. Equipment purchased for cleaning the floors totaled $60,000 alone.

"The man power you would need without the scrubbers would be mind-boggling," says Wayne Carlstedt, C.P.R.P., operations manager for The Centre of Elgin.

But other leaders believed building The Centre was a one-time shot that would enhance the community as it currently existed and attract new people and business to Elgin.

Simply put, like any community, The Centre's design and construction was a high-wire balancing act that was all about getting the most bang for the buck. And that mattered for the floors as much as anywhere else.

So step with us as we take a tour of The Centre of Elgin, not looking up or around but looking down to see what guests stand on, how it will be maintained and how it is working out four years after it was installed.

The entryway

Those designing The Centre of Elgin wanted to make a grand entrance, and one that reflected Elgin's history as the former home of the Elgin Watch Company. The historical elements were combined with practical luxury via terrazzo tiles laid out in the shape of an abstract radial watch face.

"This is a stone chip product that uses an epoxy material to bind it all together," Lawry says. "We used an aluminum edge to create the boundary."

What's known as the "heritage entrance," a somewhat smaller entrance that is closer to The Centre of Elgin's banquet facility, also has terrazzo flooring.

"It's very durable," Lawry says. "It lasts forever. It was more expensive to install, but it's very low-maintenance. You just buff it."

Lawry says you can be creative in terms of design with terrazzo. But this flexibility comes with a price.

"You can do anything with it," he says. "You're almost unlimited with your design capability."

Choosing the terrazzo, aesthetics came first, Lawry says.

"Beyond that you have to keep an eye on the budget," he says. "[The designers] developed an interior design scheme first and then considered what type of materials would accomplish it."

He says they never considered carpeting for the entryways.

"That would be tremendous upkeep," he says.

For a less-grand side entryway, The Centre designers selected strips of carpet encased in an aluminum grate. This was chosen for practical purposes only—water or snow falls through the grates, which are then easily cleaned as the strips lift.

"You just pick the grates up and vacuum underneath," Lawry says. "Every vestibule has this kind of product in it."

Stairs at The Centre of Elgin also were chosen for practical issues. The stairs are covered in a skid-resistant rubber that is an olive-green color.

"There was a very limited color choice," Lawry says. "But the functionality is great. It's easy to clean, and you can't slip on it."

Gym time

The gymnasium, which holds three basketball courts, is covered in a gleaming B-grade maple floor resting 6 inches above the concrete slab. The maple covers two layers of plywood as well as a layer of rubber cups that are 3 inches to 4 inches in diameter and spread out every 6 inches.

"In the athletic areas, flooring was the top priority," Lawry says. "For functional use, you can't play basketball on a concrete floor."

Lawry stood just outside the three-point zone and gently bounced on the floor. The floor barely flexed beneath him.

"It's got to be a solid surface with flexibility," he says. "It helps the ball bounce."

Lawry says they never considered anything other than maple for the gymnasium floor. Grade B maple was chosen for the combination of budget and aesthetics, he says.

"Grade A is very uniform," he says. "We thought it would be too sterile."

The layers under the maple were selected to be in accordance with state guidelines for high school basketball courts.

"We never considered a synthetic floor," he says. "I don't think it meets the requirements for high school floors. The ball takes a different type of bounce."

Though basketball was the main purpose of the gymnasium, these maple planks get a workout in a number of other ways. A home-school group of 150 to 200 children rent out the gymnasium every day for activities that will earn them physical-education credits. Volleyball leagues meet there every Sunday morning. The Elgin Racers, an International Basketball League team, also plays in the gymnasium. Plus, the gym has been used for a few multipurpose events, including a sock-hop celebrating the city's 150th anniversary and a flea market.

The quality of the floors in the gymnasium is one reason Carlstedt believes The Centre is attracting national events, like a Nike-sponsored summer basketball tournament for high school girls, which brings together high school athletes and college recruiters.

"This kind of floor helps get that kind of tournament," Lawry says.

Janitors ride scrubbers daily over the maple planks. About every two years, the parks and recreation department pays for the floors to be resealed with a sport coating. Just like wood decks need to be sealed to keep out moisture and keep the surface looking fresh, wood gym floors require similar tender loving care.

"We only allow athletes with proper shoes on the hardwood floor," says Lawry, calling the maintenance of the floor "not bad."

The Centre's two racquetball courts are located across from the gymnasium. Their floors have the same grade B maple and an identical structure under the maple planks. The rooms are used for not only racquetball but also wallyball and handball.

On The Centre of Elgin's second floor are the aerobics and other dance studios. The aerobics studio is designed identically to the gymnasium and racquetball court floors, providing the same give and take to aerobic exercisers bouncing and jumping on the floor. The difference is a decorative peach and cream color stripe swirling around the aerobics studio floor.

"You can put any pattern on the floor before you seal it," Lawry says.

The tap-dance studio floor is covered in grade B maple, but what you don't see is what makes this room different than the others containing maple flooring. While the gymnasium and aerobics studio have 6 inches of plywood and rubber cups underneath, the tap studio has 3 inches of cushion underneath. The end result is a more solid-feeling floor.

"You can't do tap in the aerobics room," Lawry says. "You'll ruin the floor."

The tap studio's firm floor also weathers regular ballet classes for children and ballroom dance classes for adults. The finish on the floor is different than the one found in the aerobics studio and gymnasium.

"It is not the same tackiness," Lawry says. "It's got a harder finish."

The floor needs to be resealed annually, he adds.

The Centre has one more dance studio that is not used for tap or aerobics but for other types of dance classes. The floor is again grade B maple, and there are 3 inches of cushion underneath.

"There's a different finish here," Lawry says.

Notions in Motions

Floor planners and designers look at the different actions in a sport when assessing the best choice of sports surfacing. Here's a chart that helps you do the same, matching the sport with the type of motion involved.


Ball bounce




Ball bounce
Foot slide


Friction and grip








Ball roll
Ball bounce


Horizontal sliding
Falling and diving
Ball bounce




Foot slide
Spiking with heels
Sound transmission

Hallways and birthdays

The lower-level hallways of The Centre of Elgin are covered with vinyl chloride tile, or VCT. The tiles are laid out in geometric patters and featured in rust and tan colors designed to imitate the look of marble.

VCT was chosen for one simple reason, Lawry says. It cost less.

"We would like to have extended the terrazzo in the main entryway," Lawry says. "Vinyl chloride tile was a budgetary issue."

Lawry says he wasn't disappointed with the final results, though. Though vinyl chloride tile doesn't provide the same look as terrazzo, it provided the consistency designers wanted through out the facility.

"They did an excellent job finding a material that matched the interior design plan," Lawry says. "This [type of] flooring was one of the lowest costs. You just lay it over the concrete slab. It was low-cost, low-maintenance."

Unlike the radial design of the terrazzo in The Centre of Elgin's two main entryways, the VCT has to be laid in a linear pattern; this limited the designers somewhat, he says.

Two of The Centre's most popular spaces are for birthday parties. In fact, birthday parties at The Centre were in such high demand and such a moneymaker for the facility that officials there converted one office meeting room into a second party room. Now they're hosting up to a dozen birthday parties at The Centre every weekend.

The flooring in the two birthday party rooms, as well as two arts-and-crafts rooms and the ceramics room, are VCT. The birthday rooms have 12-inch tiles made of vinyl chloride, while the hallways are composed of 16-inch VCT. Unlike the hallways, though, a different set of factors guided the decision to use this lower-cost material in the party and craft rooms.

"This was not a budget decision—you want something easier to clean, easier to maintain," Lawry says. "We chose vinyl initially in these rooms for the maintainability."

VCT also is found bordering the tap room's maple floor. This provides a safe place for dance students to change from street shoes to dance shoes.

The locker rooms—times they are a' changing

Not every floor in The Centre of Elgin was as successful as the gymnasium or birthday party rooms. The staff is in the process of changing the floors in both the upstairs and downstairs locker rooms.

Downstairs, the locker rooms are open to everyone that uses The Centre, even non-members. The locker rooms are adjacent from the hallway across from the racquetball courts or from the swimming pool area. The floors in both the swimming pool area and in the locker room are a rust-colored concrete.

That's about to change, and the dirty black streaks all over the floor are the reason.

"The dyed concrete floor is very hard to keep clean," Lawry says. "It's a really porous surface."

He says that though the floor looks dirty, it was freshly scrubbed.

"The floor is clean," he says, noting the dirt is ground in. Facility officials plan to put a 1/8-inch-thick layer of epoxy to help keep the dirt out. The epoxy will be applied by paint rollers, which is a simple process, costing about about $30,000.

The choice for the dyed concrete floors, he says, was 100 percent about cost.

"Ideally we would want ceramic tile for the pool," he says, noting that the area surrounding The Centre's three pools—a zero-depth entry leisure pool, a lap pool and a pool with a slide—had a cleaner appearance because of the mostly bare feet wandering on the concrete around those parts.

"If budget weren't an option, we would have done ceramic tiles," he says. "And the budget is guiding putting the epoxy down."

He says at this point the pool deck is clean enough to skip the epoxy coat. One day, though, the concrete may require it. And that is going to shut the pool down while the epoxy is applied.

Next to the fitness area on The Centre of Elgin's second floor are members-only locker rooms. Seeking a slightly more upscale look and featuring amenities like whirlpools, a steam room and bigger, wooden lockers, planners selected a special low-nap synthetic (not woven) carpet because it resists both water and mildew.

This locker room surface, though, has the same basic problem as the concrete found on the locker rooms in the swimming pool area: It holds dirt. Now the staff is planning to pull out the low-nap carpet and replace it with regular carpet.

"If I had to do it over, I would go with regular carpet," Lawry says. "Get it with a urethane backing, and it resists moisture. And it is cheaper to replace regular carpet than low-nap carpet."

In contrast, two smaller restrooms located near the banquet facility feature small ceramic tiles throughout.

"We went a little more upscale on the bathrooms," Lawry says, noting that wedding receptions and other events are held in the ballroom.

Carpeting: to tile or not to tile?

Though The Centre's designers chose not to put carpeting in the main entrances, there are plenty of areas in this immense structure that are carpeted.

In a modest-size snack area that houses several small tables, chairs and vending machines, there is tile carpet that was laid down in squares with a light adhesive. Tile carpeting also is found in a senior center/teen center area, the administrative office wing and a conference room.

The tile carpet is about 50 percent more expensive than wall-to-wall carpeting, Lawry says, but the trade-off is that the tiles are easier to maintain.

"If you have an accident, you can pull it up easily to replace it," he says. With the tile carpeting, there is more control

over the design. "You can create different effects," he says.

The hallway leading to the preschool classrooms are carpeting tiles that create a winding-path effect of green, rust and tan colors. Inside the classrooms are half carpet, half vinyl tile flooring. This separates the areas where the children play and are read to on the floor and where they enjoy messy activities like snack time and arts and crafts.

In the room, the carpeted areas are wall-to-wall, not tile, Lawry says.

Women at The Centre of Elgin, like many fitness clubs, have a separate exercise space with circuit weight machines and cardiovascular equipment like treadmills, stationery bikes and elliptical trainers. The carpeting in this room is carpet tile, while the carpeting in the larger, general weight room is wall-to-wall.

"The women's workout area was not originally set up for a women's workout area," Lawry explains. The disadvantage of the carpet tile in a fitness area is that the tile is hewn to the floor with a mild adhesive.

"It can start moving around," he says. "You need wall-to-wall so the carpet does not move under the heavy machines."

Climbing wall-a floor to fall for

The Centre of Elgin features a 32-foot-high climbing wall with a 360-degree climbing surface that simulates a rope climb up a mountain. The floor beneath this faux Everest must be soft and pliant enough to provide a soft landing to those taking the climbing challenge.

"Obviously we had to have fall protection," Lawry says. This fall protection comes in the form of an 8-inch-thick rubberized, pulverized material mixed with a binding material.

Like many floors in The Centre, the color in the climbing wall area is rust.

"You could pick any color of this," Lawry says. "There was a really wide range."

Sport Surfaces Lingo

Want to sound like you're in the know when it comes to sports floors and surfaces? This vocabulary list may help.

POINT-ELASTIC SURFACE: A surface that bends at the point of pressure and absorbs energy. This is common in synthetic surfaces.

AREA-ELASTIC SURFACE: A rigid surface that does not bend but yields gradually to pressure and can return energy, like wood floors

COMPOSITE SURFACE: A surface with characteristics of both point and area elasticity, often a synthetic surface over wood

RESILIENCE: A floor's ability to bend or give. Synthetic surfaces often have greater resiliency than wood.

MOISTURE CONTENT: The weight of water contained in wood flooring, as a percentage of a kiln-dried sample

SLEEPER SYSTEM: Wood flooring system where the wood strips are installed atop strips of wood studs

PANEL SYSTEM: Wood flooring system where the wood strips are installed on top of strips of other material, often plywood

ANCHORED SYSTEM: Wood flooring system where the wood strips are installed on top of sheets of other materials, often plywood, with 2-by-3 "sleepers" under the plywood

ACCLIMATIZATION: The process where wood flooring materials must sit in a facility for a number of days to adjust to moisture levels

FORCE REDUCTION: The ability of a sports floor to absorb the shock of impact, compared to a non-resilient floor

BALL REBOUND: The percentage to which a ball bounced back to the height from which it is dropped, compared to the percentage on a non-resilient floor like concrete. Ball rebound, or bounce, should be at least 90 percent on a sports surface where basketball is played.

STANDARD DEFORMATION: The depth to which a floor indents under a load of weight

DEFORMATION CONTROL: The area of a deformation when a floor indents under a load of weight

DUROMETER: A device that measures surface hardness in the value "Shore A." The higher the number, the softer the floor.

SLIDING BEHAVIOR: The distance a floor can permit an athlete's foot to turn or purposely slide while still preventing uncontrolled sliding.

EPDM: Ethylene propylene diene monomer, a type of synthetic rubber flooring that comes in granule form

SBR: Styrene butadiene rubber, another granulized form of synthetic rubber

PVC: Polyvinyl chloride, a common form of synthetic rubber that is identical to the substance used for plumbing pipes

PREFABRICATED SHEET SYSTEMS (ALSO CALLED SHEET GOODS): Synthetic flooring manufactured off-site and delivered in rolls or sheets

CAST IN PLACE SYSTEMS: Synthetic flooring systems created on site

VULCANIZED RUBBER: Natural rubber used for point-elastic surfaces or synthetic vulcanized rubber

Multipurpose, on purpose

The Centre of Elgin's multipurpose gym has the markings of a basketball court. It has the hoops. But it also has a dramatically different floor than the gymnasium. This room is covered with synthetic flooring.

This gymnasium is for younger kids learning basic basketball skills. The synthetic floor is also durable to hold up as preschoolers drive their miniature cars around the gymnasium or as adults drag in playground equipment for them to use during Elgin's cold winter months. The room also is used for birthday parties with more than 100 people in attendance.

"Because of the multiuse nature of this room, we chose a product other than wood," Carlstedt says. "The primary use here is not basketball."

Synthetic floors also cover a motor-skills room for the pre-school, where kids spend part of the day maneuvering on tiny square carts on wheels. It is also the surface of choice for the free-weight room that sports a 1.5-inch surface that absorbs dropped weights.

Finally, The Centre chose yet another synthetic surface for its 1/8-mile track, which is open to all Elgin residents free of charge and is one of the facility's most popular features.

The surface found on this three-lane track is 1/4-inch thick. A thinner material, Lawry says, would need to be replaced more frequently. Despite its popularity, the walking and running track has held up well since The Centre opened its doors in 2002.

"It's in good shape," he says. "It's a good product. We visited different recreation centers [for recommendations.]"

The Centre of Elgin's maintenance program for its indoor track is a common one that is good for the track and good for the joints of the people who use it: It mandates walking and running in different directions depending on the day of the week.

"If you keep walking in the same direction, the track will eventually start moving on you because you are always walking in one direction," he says. "It's a flexible, pliable product, and it can move on you."

Dance floor-as you like it

In the tile carpeted banquet facility, which can seat up to 300 people, The Centre offers a snap-lock dance floor that fits together like a puzzle.

It's plastic, black and shiny and can be as big as 24 feet by 24 feet. It features raised edges so people do not trip on their way out to shake a tail feather.

Often, though, the full-size dance floor isn't needed. The snap-lock system gives the banquet facility's customers the versatility they need.

"If you want to do something on a smaller scale, we can make it," Carlstedt says. "It is more flexible."

It is also easy to maintain and easy to store on pallets. It's equally simple to assemble for events like the Saturday evening salsa classes.

Kitchen flooring

Adjacent to the banquet center is a full-service kitchen, not just for those preparing meals for wedding receptions or other functions but also for cooking classes. Currently, The Centre of Elgin is sponsoring cooking classes for its special recreation programs for those with mental handicaps in an effort to promote self-sufficiency.

Though the kitchen does not seem like an obvious room for recreation, the floor was chosen as carefully as the floors throughout the rest of the facility.

Rust-colored clay tiles line the floor of the kitchen, tiles that are "very hard to slip on," Lawry says. If The Centre did not offer classes in the space, he says planners would have chosen the less expensive concrete.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Not every fitness facility is starting from scratch when putting its surfaces in place. Chuck Richards, owner of the Sunset Athletic Club in Portland, Ore., uses a variety of sustainable products throughout his 75,000-square-foot facility.

Richards opened the club in 1977. Thirty years ago, the variety of flooring options was pretty basic, he says.

"We had hardwood, we had carpet," he recalls. "Once in a while, you'd see polyurethane."

But as Richards took to expanding his club over the years, he saw that the choices in flooring had expanded greatly as well. He added three new buildings to the complex in the expansion.

"Once we entered the new construction zone, we would see our possibilities within flooring are so much greater," he says. "The manufacturers have come up with some different products."

Many of these popular products are environmentally friendly, something he says is popular with patrons though may not be a draw on its own.

"I'm not sure it's getting us more customers, but the awareness [of his environmental efforts] is out there," he says.

Some of these products are unique re-uses for older materials. The more unique floors of the Sunset Athletic Club—and the history behind them—are on display at the club.

One such distinctive surface is the acid-etched floors that are found throughout the club, in the hallways and along the perimeter of the gyms. On average about 200 years old, these floors are made from materials once coated in rust.

"They use battleships or whatever else they can get, and mix [the material] with acid," he says. "This leaves the rust behind. Then they clean off the residue, seal it, and finish it."

Maintenance on acid-etched floors could not be easier, Richards says.

"You just dust them off, use a wet mop, and once a year coat the floors with a non-skid product, like an acrylic floor finish," he says.

The acid-etched floor comes in eight colors. Richards chose a color that spoke to the floors' unique history, "a rich rust color," he says.

For the hallways and corridors in and around the pool area, Richards chose a product from the Netherlands that is soft on bare feet and resistant to fungus and mildew. The carpet holds water, and when it reaches its saturation point, the carpet drains into the pool area.

"This is a neat product that comes from a long way away," he says.

Richards, like Lawry at The Centre of Elgin, also spoke highly of the carpet tiles he uses in the facility. Richards selected 20-inch squares to use in the weight-training facility.

"They are easy to lay, and if something goes bad, you just replace it," he says. "That's kind of nice. Before you just had rolled carpet."

In the corridors facing the athletic club's weight areas, on the floor of the Spinning room and in fairly high-traffic areas, Richards uses a recycled-rubber product. The rubber floor is 3/8-inch thick and is made from recycled tires. It comes in a roll, like carpet, and is durable and easy to clean.

The hardwood in the gym may look like a standard wood floor, but it's a floor with a story to tell. Richards uses sustainable wood flooring, made from trees harvested in a renewable forest. It's a natural product, and based on the responses from a display area he has explaining the product, it's a popular one.

"People love it," he says. "I liked the look and wearability. And I liked that it was a green product."

The other carpet he spoke of as special is what he calls "pop bottle carpet"—a product made from recycled soda bottles.

"It's a little more expensive," he says. "But it works just fine."

It looks like rolled carpet, but knowing what it's made of makes the extra price worth it for Richards and his many eco-conscious customers in Portland.

"We're thrilled to know we're using stuff that could have gone to the dump," he says.

The environmentally friendly floor products are mixed in with some more traditional flooring surfaces like tile, concrete and regular carpet.

"It's been a combination," he says. "If we can use these [environmentally friendly products], let's do it. But we also have to see about durability and cost."

Richards says as more and more eco-friendly or sustainable products debut on the market, there is more demand for them.

"It's hard to keep up with it," he says.

Richards isn't the only one factoring the environment into decisions about flooring.

One footwear and apparel company converts used athletic shoes into a material for artificial athletic surfaces. The manufacturer asks groups to collect 5,000 pairs of used athletic shoes of any brand. The used shoes are then mixed with the company's own shoes that were returned due to a material flaw. The shoes are sliced up and divided into different products—outsole rubber, midsole foam and upper fabric. The sliced and cut-up shoes are used to create fields for playing football and soccer, tennis courts and basketball courts, playground surfaces, and running tracks.

Since the program started in 1993, the company estimates it has helped recycle more than 15 million pairs of used shoes that otherwise likely would be clogging up the nation's landfills. It has shipped nearly 6.5 million pounds of the recycled rubber (about 3,000 tons) for use on fields since 1999, its Web site reports.

The company provides its recycled material to a number of select licensees. One synthetic turf company mimics real grass turf by using a coated fiber and an open-weave system holding a mixture of this recycled-shoe material, other rubber material and sand infill. Base surfaces are varied and include asphalt, crushed rock and concrete. The turf can be used inside and out and reportedly requires less maintenance than a grass field, though the look and feel of the turf is grass-like.

This recycled-shoe material also is used in a polymer-resin binder system for an all-weather track surface, as part of wood or synthetic gymnasium floors, and on tennis and basketball courts.

The Solid Waste Agency of Lake County in Illinois, for example, announced in July 2004 it was looking to collect 5,000 shoes. By May 2005, more than 6,500 pairs of shoes were collected from 45 schools and youth groups and four or five central drop-off points.

The City of Milwaukee's Department of Public Work also has successfully used the Reuse-A-Shoe program. Since Milwaukee started the program in August 2004 through December 2005, the city collected nearly 21,000 pairs of used athletic shoes—or more than 15.5 tons of shoes that would've taken up 135 cubic yards of landfill space, according to the city.

Playground Help

When building a playground, the surface material can be the single most critical element in preventing injuries. Here are some pros and cons of potential surface materials, courtesy of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Handbook for Public Playground Safety.

Organic loose material (wood chips, bark mulch, engineered wood fibers, etc.)


  • Cushioning effect is dependent on the air trapped within and between the individual particles.
  • Also, you need an adequate amount in place to guarantee the proper cushioning effect.


  • Don't install over concrete.
  • This material requires some sort of container or barrier to keep it in place.
  • You also need good drainage, periodic replacement of material and continuous maintenance to keep the appropriate depth and remove potentially dangerous foreign substances.


  • Low initial cost
  • Easy to install
  • Good drainage
  • Less abrasive than sand
  • Less attractive to cats and dogs than sand
  • Looks good
  • Easily available


  • Rainy weather, freezing temperatures or high humidity can dampen the cushion.
  • Combines with dirt or foreign materials over time, which makes it a harder surface
  • Decomposes, pulverizes and compacts over time, requiring replenishment
  • Depth can be reduced both by the wind and by children's play.
  • Can be blown or thrown into children's eyes
  • Can by subject to microbial growth when wet
  • Hides trash like glass, nails and other sharp objects as well as animal excrement
  • Can be flammable
  • Subject to theft by neighborhood residents looking for cheap mulch

Inorganic loose material (sand and gravel)
  • Spreads easily outside of containment area
  • Small particles bind together and become less cushioning when wet.
  • When totally wet, sand becomes rigid.
  • May be tracked out of play area on shoes. Sand can be abrasive to some indoor floor surfaces and plastic.
  • Adheres to clothing
  • Attractive to animals
  • Hard to walk on
  • Could present a fall hazard if displaced onto nearby hard surface
  • Hard pan can form under heavily trafficked areas


  • Don't install over hard surfaces like asphalt and concrete.
  • Needs to be contained by a device like a barrier wall or excavated pit
  • Good drainage required
  • Requires periodic renewal or replacement and continuous maintenance like grading, raking or sifting to keep the appropriate depth and to remove any foreign materials
  • Compacted sand should be turned over, loosed and cleaned periodically.
  • Gravel may require periodic break up and removal of hard pan.


  • Low startup cost
  • Easy to install
  • Does not pulverize
  • Not ideal for microbial growth
  • Nonflammable
  • Materials are abundant
  • Not susceptible to vandalism except by contamination
  • Gravel is less attractive to animals than sand.


  • Rainy weather, high humidity or freezing temperatures can reduce the cushioning potential.
  • Dirt and foreign materials combine with the material during normal use.
  • Sand can be blown by the wind or thrown into children's eyes.
  • Depth can be reduced by displacement.
  • May be swallowed
  • Conceals animal excrement and small but dangerous trash items like broken
  • glass or nails

Inorganic loose material (recycled-rubber nuggets)


  • Don't install over existing hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt.
  • Needs a method of containment like a retaining barrier or excavated pit
  • Good drainage required underneath material
  • Requires continuous maintenance like leveling, grading and raking to keep the appropriate depth and remove any foreign matter


  • Easy to install
  • Has superior shock-absorbing capability
  • Is not abrasive
  • Less likely to compact than other loose-fill materials
  • Not ideal for microbial growth
  • Does not deteriorate over time


  • Is flammable
  • Can cause soiling of clothes if untreated
  • May contain steel wires from steel-belted radial tires, though some manufacturers guarantee wire-free material
  • Depth may be reduced by displacement by children's play.
  • Can be swallowed

Unitary synthetic materials (rubber or rubber over foam mats or tiles, poured-in-place or urethane and rubber compositions)


  • Some unitary materials can be laid directly on hard surfaces such as asphalt or concrete. Others may require expert under-surface preparation and installation by the manufacturer or a local contractor. Materials generally require no additional means of containment.


  • Low-maintenance
  • Easy to clean
  • Consistent shock-absorbency
  • Material is not displace by children during play activities.
  • Generally low life-cycle costs
  • Good footing (depends on surface texture)
  • Harbors few foreign objects
  • Generally no retaining edges needed
  • Is accessible to the handicapped


  • Initial cost relatively high
  • Under surfacing may be needed for thinner materials.
  • Often must be used on almost level uniform surfaces
  • May be flammable
  • Subject to vandalism
  • Full rubber tiles may curl up and cause tripping.
  • Some designs are susceptible to frost damage.

Source: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Playground safety

More than 200,000 children end up in emergency rooms every year for injuries sustained from playground equipment, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The bulk of these are from falls from equipment to the ground.

The surface you build a playground on can be the critical factor in making your play area safe for all children. The greater the shock-absorbency of a surface, the less the chance of serious injuries.

According to the commission, asphalt or concrete are only appropriate under playground equipment when used as a base for a more absorbent material, like a cushioned mat. Soil, grass, turf or packed dirt are not recommended because of their hardness and lack of shock-absorption.

Unitary materials and loose-fill are the two surfaces recommended. Unitary materials are rubber mats, tiles or other rubber-like materials that are bound together or poured-in-place. The CPSC recommends that you investigate the shock-absorbing properties of these materials before purchasing from the wide range of manufacturers that offer it. Meanwhile, loose-fill materials include wood mulch or bark, sand, gravel, and recycled rubber nuggets. For loose-fill to be effective, it needs to be installed and maintained at a sufficient depth. Unlike unitary materials, loose-fill should not be placed over concrete.

Loose-fill can be more maintenance-intensive. One easy way the commission recommends to ensure you have the proper depth of loose-fill is to mark the playground equipment's posts at the proper level of loose-fill surfacing under and around the equipment.

Equipment that lets a child play while standing or sitting, like a play house or sand box, does not need to be on a protective surface, the commission states.

© Copyright 2021 Recreation Management. All rights reserved.