Flooring a Centerpiece of University Renovation 

University of North Texas transformed a former office building into a student resources center.

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor  

All education facilities, from K-12 school districts to universities, strive to create an environment in which students can learn and flourish. When the University of North Texas in Denton began the renovation of Sage Hall to turn it from an office building into the Academic Success Center, the goal was to create an atmosphere that would address the academic and personal needs of students, as well as meet the goals of university officials. 

One key element in the university’s efforts to renovate Sage Hall was the selection and installation of flooring throughout the facility’s three floors. 

Transforming for success 

Sage Hall’s transformation into the university’s Academic Success Center started in 2016. 

“The president's initiative at that time was to create a one-stop shop to help the students with their academic success instead of having several different locations on campus,” says Thanh Kim Nguyen, manager of planning, design and construction. “We had discovered that students were unable to meet and to get the grades, and they were failing and flunking out of classes. We wanted to make it easier for the students to get assistance in one location instead of having to go from building to building as they had been previously, so we consolidated all their activities into one location.” 

The center houses the office of advising services, the office of disability access, a math tutoring lab, a writing center, student veteran services, classrooms, an adaptive computing lab, and a career center. 

“It was an occupied building, so we had to plan out the design and construction one floor at a time, and leadership only had funding to secure one floor at a time so that's what we did,” Nguyen says. The project took place over three years, one floor at a time, from 2016 to 2018. 

Focus on flooring 

Besides bringing all student services into one location, the renovation also sought to revamp the image of the university itself. 

"Back in 2013, there was a smaller interior renovation that updated some carpet tiles and furniture,” Nguyen says. “But in supporting the new center, we wanted to revamp it, to get an image that reflected the university at the time. We went in with new flooring and furniture — a total renovation. 

“On each floor, we gutted maybe 80 percent of the walls. We had to program it to the incoming departments, so we had to meet their needs for HVAC, electrical and some plumbing. We did break rooms, and the restrooms were already renovated 2013, so we did not touch the restrooms for the 2016 renovation.” 

The renovation brought in 5,000 square yards of new flooring, including planking and carpet in the corridors and inside the office suites themselves. Among the top priorities in selecting the project’s flooring was finding a product that would be able to stand up to the heavy foot traffic of active students

“Ideally, when you have a building with high traffic, you want a material that's going to be resilient and durable,” Nguyen says. “The optimum choice is typically terrazzo, but with an existing building, you're limited to the kind of finishes. Terrazzo is typically great for new construction because it's finished. 

“We had to replace carpet tile, and we wanted the ability to resist stains because there's going to be a lot of traffic impacts. We wanted ceramic tiles, but with the labor and the time crunch that we had, we couldn't accommodate it in our construction schedule.” 

The decision was made to install carpet tiles and luxury vinyl tile (LVT) in Sage Hall. 

“Carpet tiles and LVT are modular, so you can pull them out and replace them fairly easily,” says Cassandra Nash, the university’s director of planning, design and construction. 

Adds Nguyen, “Flooring and LVT have made great strides. It is very economical, and it's a good replacement for ceramic tiles, especially with acoustics. When you walk in shoes and heels, it echoes more, so you have more acoustic properties with the LVT. 

“It's also very durable, and it's easy to replace. You don’t have to take out the grout. You just unpeel one of these things because they're not a clip system. It's a glued-on flooring material.” 

Building renovations are notoriously challenging, as they often present managers and contractors with unexpected issues once work begins. The renovation of Sage Hall into the university’s Academic Success Center was no different in this regard. 

“When this building was built, it had plaster walls, so the wall thickness itself is not your standard construction material,” Nguyen says. “The current construction wall thickness is typically 5 or 6 inches. Back then, the plaster walls were 3½ inches, so we had some challenges to build out the walls to match current industry standards. 

“When we removed one of the tiered classrooms, we converted it to an office space. By removing the tiered steps, we found that it was hollow underneath. It was basically Earth coming through. So we had to go back in and infill it with structural materials and concrete.” 

Despite such challenges, the renovation of Sage Hall into the Academic Success Center has enabled Nguyen and the university address student needs, as well as the long-term needs of the facility itself. 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor for the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management. 

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  posted on 12/8/2023   Article Use Policy

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