How Design Impacts Modern Learning in Educational Facilities
Pink Floyd famously sings, “We don’t need no education,” but the fact is, most of us spend a good portion of our lives in a classroom. Today’s schoolrooms are being designed to foster not only a love of learning but also a productive and positive experience. Our aim is to contribute to the educational built environment with a focus on evidence-based design to effectively support the learning process and inspire students to succeed.
We sat down with Mohawk Group’s Senior Vice President of Education, David Dembowitz, to find out what drives the company’s passion for education.
Q: What flooring concerns do facilities managers and designers face in the K-12 education segment?
A: They care about product longevity, durability, stain resistance—basically how long the flooring will last—because they’re budgeting. In K-12, facility managers are working to make every dollar count, so performance is important because whatever they buy has to hold up.
If the facility looks good and clean, typically the parents are happier, and studies have shown that if a student is proud of their environment, they typically score higher on standardized testing, behavior improves, and they just do better in general.* So there is a definite interest in quality products—the better the product holds up, the better it performs, then the children have a better experience.
Q: What are a few specific performance needs in the education segment?
A: In both K-12 and higher education, collaborative spaces are important. Flexible environments for teaching and learning is becoming a bigger trend. With our products you can go from hard surface to soft surface – you can easily move the walls, move the desks, and have no issues.
Sound is also a big concern, both sound transference between floors and noise within the space. Acoustics have to be taken into consideration to support the learning environment. A good facility director is trying to build or renovate the facility to improve student performance—that’s the ultimate outcome.
Glare is also a concern. Shiny is often equated with clean, but glare can affect student performance if it makes it to where they can’t see the board as well, or if it’s distracting. We want lots of natural light in the classroom, as recent research shows that spaces with natural light helps increase well-being and productivity and reduces absences* – but with natural light comes glare. So that’s where we know those classrooms need either soft surfaces, which don’t cause glare, or hard surface options with a matte finish.
Q: Are facility directors and designers concerned with how the school environment affects the health of students?
A: Yes. For example, VCT needs to be stripped and waxed twice a year, so we recommend our ERT (enhanced resilient tile) to avoid harsh cleaning chemicals being released into the breathing zone. This is not only for the benefit of students, but also the faculty and staff. And with our Duracolor solution-dyed nylon fiber, maintenance no longer requires detergent, which keeps chemicals from being released into the environment as well.
Q: Let’s talk about flooring for higher education. How is specifying flooring for higher education different?
A: Higher-ed is basically like a little city. They use every category of flooring in all kinds of settings. They have dorms, for example, so they have specific flooring needs for housing. They need both soft surface and hard surface, and it needs to be durable, and it needs to perform acoustically, and it needs to look good.
Higher education is a business. When I went to college, there was a VCT floor and cinder block walls painted a random color. Now they’re competing for top talent so they have to keep the dorms upgraded. They need to show well, so that they look inviting and comfortable, like a home.
Design also plays a big role, because it helps to promote school pride and school spirit, especially if they have an athletic department. Flooring gives designers the opportunity to reinforce the school’s identity visually through color and pattern. On the academic side, collaborative spaces are critical, with more and more team teaching and team learning taking place. And durability is obviously pretty essential.
Sustainability is also very important to a university or college, typically much more than for K-12, because it’s important to the students they hope to attract. It’s really great to see upcoming generations generating that interest for colleges to invest in sustainability.
Q: How does Mohawk help make flooring specification easier for facility directors and designers?
A: First and foremost, we know education. Not just flooring but how it best complements the educational environment. Another important factor is that it’s easy to do business with us. We’re the largest flooring manufacturer in the world, so we have every flooring type to fit every need in the education segment. And with our economy of scale, we can offer better pricing on high-performance flooring. Best of all, we give them one point of contact for everything, with one PO for less time and effort spent on the bidding process.
Q: Getting a bit personal, what inspires you to work in the education segment?
A: For me, personally, I have two school-age children, and as a parent, I want to know that my kids have the best opportunity to succeed. And I’d love to be able to provide that to anyone who walks on our product. It is quality flooring. We believe we can help the kids study and help them learn. It may sound a touch cheesy, but if I can help students do better in school –get a better chance at future opportunities by supporting their educational environment– then I feel like I’m doing my part.
I’ve been in the industry 17 years now, and I love being involved with the school systems. Typically, facility directors are engaged in the schools. They are good people who care about the wellbeing of the students, the faculty, and the staff. Everyone is working together to help the kids succeed.
One reason I enjoy higher education is just the never-ending quest for knowledge. The breakthroughs that will affect me as I get older and my kids as they grow up are happening right now in these universities.
Being even a little part of the built environment is pretty cool. It’s a way to be a small part of something that could be extremely meaningful to everyone, not just the students.
I chose to do this. Education is something I’ve always been passionate about. I love seeing how the flooring can really make a difference.