Creating Exceptional Learning Environments From the Ground Up

When Syracuse University made the decision to replace the flooring in the school's residence halls, they looked for a product that would meet a variety of performance benefits. The floor covering needed to stand up to high-volume traffic and the brutal Syracuse winters, while offering a streamlined maintenance routine. It also needed to look good.

Research led the school to premium rubber flooring, which they selected for busy dormitory entrance areas, corridors, common spaces and stairwells. The demands Syracuse places on its flooring are not unlike those of other universities and colleges. Many are looking for a floor that will perform in a number of different ways, recognizing the impact flooring can have on the learning environment. In fact, properly selected materials, along with effective light and forward-thinking design, have been shown to improve student performance and teacher success on a wide range of measures, from test scores and absenteeism to a reduction in headaches and asthma. Additionally, premium rubber flooring supports some of the most important new concepts in the creation of exceptional learning environments-among them collaboration, communication and creativity.

Collaborating with Rubber

In addition to learning a set of knowledge, students today are preparing for a future that will require teamwork, quick learning and the ability to perform many different jobs in a lifetime. Collaboration in the classroom supports that preparation and favors a learning space that can be easily and quickly reconfigured. Gone are the rows of desks, often replaced by furnishings that are grouped to enhance small group or individualized instruction.

Whatever the arrangement, rubber flooring becomes an important asset to an agile, ever-changing classroom. The floor’s resilient surface makes it easier to move desks, chairs, carts and equipment while resisting scratching. At the same time, it provides comfort for students who sit on it and teachers who spend much of their work day on their feet. Softer, more cushioned rubber flooring offers an important weapon in the battle against muscle fatigue and aching backs, legs and feet. Its content and structure make rubber especially resilient, easing the stress of walking and standing as it ensures comfort underfoot and allows teachers to concentrate on their students rather than the pain in their feet.

This same, slip-resistant surface reduces the likelihood of falls. When falls do occur, the ability of rubber flooring to absorb energy can help prevent or reduce injuries. The floor’s added traction is particularly important in areas where large numbers of people are moving quickly most of the day, such as hallways, stairwells, cafeterias and gymnasiums.

No Finishing Means Easy Maintenance

It’s also worth noting that premium rubber flooring does not require coating or polishing, so the surface does not have the type of gloss that can cause slipperiness or create a visual perception of slipperiness, which in itself can be a hazard. And because rubber flooring does not require coating or polishing, it does not expose students and teachers to strong, lingering fumes. Nor do large areas of an academic facility need to be closed for an extended period of time while floors are cleaned and finishes are applied and allowed to dry.

Instead, the maintenance regimen for rubber flooring is simple. Because rubber is a nonporous and non-absorbent material, routine maintenance with water and a damp mop is often all that is required, which was a driving factor in Syracuse University’s decision to use rubber flooring. Additionally, the dense surface resists staining, which is an especially important benefit in cafeterias and laboratories. The absence of wax and a high-gloss finish also mitigates glare, decreasing the ability to see in the process. This, in turn, helps reduce the occurrence of eyestrain and headaches.

Hearing Better, Communicating More

Rubber flooring also supports communication in educational settings. Communication skills are learned in one-on-one exchanges with teachers and other students, making good classroom acoustics an important consideration in classroom design. Everyone needs to hear and be heard clearly. Unfortunately, noise levels in many classrooms are often so high that they significantly interfere with teaching and learning.

Materials selection, particularly of ceilings, walls and flooring, plays an important role in reducing unwanted noise that interferes with an effective learning environment. Most common building materials transfer noise throughout a space, but rubber reduces the amount of sound being generated, which helps control unwanted ambient noise. Noise generated by footsteps, conversations, technology, building systems and doors opening and closing is reduced and far less distracting. In effect, the flooring promotes a quieter environment that improves concentration, enhances learning and results in better academic performance.

Multiple Options Support Creativity

Like collaboration, creativity flourishes in an environment that features rubber flooring. The floor covering offers a variety of colors, patterns and textures to create exciting learning environments, with inlays that support a design theme that features colorful logos, images and patterns. It can also be used to create an important wayfinding tool.

Additionally, the variety of options rubber flooring offers helps maintain a uniform, consistent look across a facility or a group of buildings in a campus setting, even in those buildings with very specific performance and design requirements. Often, the many benefits rubber flooring offers mean one flooring choice will meet multiple requirements, enabling schools to specify a single product throughout their facilities and ensuring a consistent design.

Breathe Easier with Rubber

In addition to collaboration, communication and creativity, rubber flooring supports a healthy learning environment. Many rubber floors are free of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and the risks associated with the leaching of chemicals used in the manufacturing of PVC products. Because rubber flooring does not contain PVC, it does not generate any hydrochloric acid, dioxins or furans, contributing to healthy indoor air quality for students and staff. Nor do rubber floors contain plasticizers (phthalate) or halogens (e.g. chlorine), and some are GREENGUARD Gold Certified for low VOC emissions. This high-level certification offers stringent criteria to meet the strict emissions levels as presented by UL Environment, which focuses on healthy indoor environments. The floor’s dense, nonporous surface helps repel bacteria, making the floor naturally resistant to bacteria, fungi and micro-organisms. This important feature also promotes health and safety in classrooms.

In addition, rubber flooring offers a durable solution to high-traffic areas, including busy entrances, lobbies and hallways. In the case of Syracuse University, the floor continues to stand up to foot traffic, along with tracked-in snow, sleet and ice melt products. In fact, the flooring has performed so efficiently that the maintenance team is using spare tiles of rubber flooring as walk-off pads for elevators during the winter. The durable product is also long-lasting, offering an extended life cycle of 30+ years. This supports sustainability goals even as it works with tight budgets by assuring administrators the investment they make today will not need to be replaced for up to three decades.

Rubber Meets Multiple Challenges

As learning centers and campus spaces continue to evolve, the need for finishes and furnishings that provide versatility, both in performance and design features, grows. Rubber flooring continues to meet the challenge with colorful, easy-to-maintain, durable and sustainable options that help dampen sound, improve indoor air quality and resist stains and slips. Just ask Robert Spagnoletti, manager  of maintenance at Syracuse University, who says, “The versatility of rubber lends itself to many different spaces, and it performs in all of them, functionally and aesthetically.”