One Surface, Many Uses
Finding the Right Multipurpose Sports & Fitness Surfaces
By Joe Bush
If you want to know about multipurpose sports flooring, you'll want to speak with Jim Launer.
Launer is the managing director of athletic operations at Spooky Nook in Lancaster, Pa., billed as the nation's largest indoor sports facility. It features 85,000 square feet of fitness and sports performance areas, 60,000 of it a fitness center with free weights and weight machines, a 200-meter track, group exercise areas and pickleball courts. Elsewhere in the facility are 10 hardwood basketball courts, four field hockey courts, 10 volleyball courts, outdoor fields and a dome.
"As far as surfaces and what we use, we probably use a little bit of everything in the entire sports industry," said Launer, who has been at Spooky Nook its entire three-year lifespan.
Launer said there are 600 to 700 check-ins a day in the summer and twice that after January, and not only is that impressive, it's lots of people walking, running, stopping and starting, dancing, jumping, tripping, falling, dragging things and spilling on the surfaces. There could be one type of flooring that could handle court sports, fitness classes, tracks and weight areas, but it wouldn't be ideal for all of them.
Launer said that when the facility was being built, the first step in choosing surfaces was choosing uses and programming.
"We knew we'd have a fitness center and we knew we'd have group exercise, but we didn't know if group exercise was going to be standard group exercise or if it would be that plus boot camps plus dance class plus cheerleading plus spinning and anything else you can think of," he said. "So when we went with the flooring that we chose for the group exercise classrooms, we picked something that was versatile enough to handle all of those activities that we were anticipating."
The qualities of the multipurpose candidate included durability, slip-resistance and, very important to Launer, good looks.
"We're a consumer facility, so how the consumer feels about our facility when they walk in and see our facility for the first time is very important to us," he said. "I don't want to say looks are just as important as function, but it's pretty close."
Know Your Options
There are a few types of sports flooring. Hardwood is limited to single or at most, dual use, and while it is dazzling, it is also high-maintenance and expensive. There is court and fitness area flooring that is rolled out and connected, so the coverage is smooth, with limited cracks. Then there is modular, smaller tile-like flooring that is fit together like a puzzle. It has more gaps but is also easier to repair; if a tile is damaged, one tile replaces it.
Launer said there are pros and cons to the rollout and the modular. He likes the look of the modular surface but said its functionality can be problematic.
"Moving heavy equipment on it, sometimes it tends to pull up, and the ability to clean that floor is a little more difficult since it has the cracks," Launer said. "We have a Zamboni-like machine so if you go too heavy on the water you have to worry about water getting down the cracks. The rollout floor that's been glued together and glued down, we don't have those issues. If I had to do it all again, I probably wouldn't go with the large block-like surface, I'd probably rollout all the flooring."
In Spooky Nook sports performance center, modular sport flooring takes over for futsal, indoor field hockey, volleyball and basketball. In one area the modular flooring has indoor turf on top of it that can be rolled off based on use.
"That flooring for us is extremely versatile," Launer said.
Spooky Nook's fitness center is covered by floors manufactured by a commercial flooring company in Lancaster, and Launer said it's not cost or looks that drew the facility to this option. As the holder of a master's degree in exercise science, Launer appreciates the company's approach to surfaces. One of its differentiators is that it uses reclaimed waste materials in its surfaces, as much as 75 million pounds of recycled scrap tire rubber per year.
Cleaning & Maintenance
Launer said that despite the important attention to flooring performance and looks, in his 10 years in the business he's come to see one floor-related aspect as most crucial.
"Cleaning," he said. "It's very important for our customers to come into a clean facility. They're not going to just think it's clean, it's actually clean. I learned the hard way if you have a dirty facility or you have a facility you don't keep up with because you can't keep up with, it's just not easy to clean—that's a problem.
"I started out in an old gym that had carpet on the floors. Putting an athlete through an intense session and they're sweating on the floors and lying on the floors and they're leaving a bodyprint on the floor—eventually it starts to smell, and it wears very fast and it looks terrible and your customer can tell it's a dirty environment."
Launer said the most important tactic to successful cleaning is the most simple: constant attention.
There's an overnight crew for the whole facility, double and triple staffing for overlapping periods, and what Launer calls Facility Enhancement Teams, basically pro cleaning crews.
"Every week we do one deep clean in the fitness center and sports performance center, and every day surfaces are cleaned a minimum of three times," Launer said. "One to two times by fitness staff, one time by the daytime Facility Enhancement Team and then the overnight Facility Enhancement Team.
"We definitely clean at 5 p.m. on a Monday night, our busiest time, because I want the membership to know we care about the place and how it looks and giving them a top-notch product."
Another way to show people a facility or organization cares is a commitment to sustainability. In materials and installation processes, a floor manufacturer can boost a building's LEED points.
The private school Moravian Academy in Bethlehem, Pa., built a fieldhouse facility that includes a competition basketball court, a multipurpose court, and a weight training and conditioning area. A Lancaster, Pa.-based sports flooring contractor was able to meet all the school's needs, providing a 13,570-square-foot maple court for competition, a 6,780-square-foot multipurpose floor, and a 2,415-square-foot interlocking tile rubber floor in the weight room. This was a LEED-certified project to which all of the surfaces contributed, said Joe Banks, marketing coordinator for the sports flooring contractor.
"Sustainable products and environmental stewardship are important factors we see in the industry today," Banks said.
Sustainable products and practices are relatively new to the recreational sports construction industry, and something else that's new is the ability to customize flooring, said Joel McCausland, sales director of a Salt Lake City, Utah-based leader in sport surfaces, including hardwood, synthetic and outdoor sport surfaces.
"Our modular flooring systems can be 'tuned' to the needs of the facility, by adjusting the levels of shock absorption and resilience," McCausland said. "A volleyball club may need more cushion in their floor, where a basketball team might choose more of a balance between resilience and ball response."
McCausland said that while there are some facilities to whom price is no object, that's not common.
"As in most consumer markets, customers are interested in getting the best value they can for their investment," he said. "Most of our customers are concerned about making the wise choice, given the demands of their facility and user base. They want safety for their athletes, with as much performance and playability as possible. They want to keep costs down—both in initial installation and maintenance—but need a durable and lasting solution for their facility.
"They want a floor that allows groups to play volleyball, basketball, pickleball, futsal, and then to host a community gathering, with no time-consuming changes to the setup—an attractive, tough, sports surface that can take hard use and still look great for meetings and other non-sports applications."
Oh, is that all?
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