When students enter Big Sandy Elementary School in Tuscaloosa County, Ala., this fall, they will find an inspiring learning environment all around them. Playing off the theme “Discover Earth,” each wing of the new school represents a different continent, and its walls, ceilings and floors are decorated with artwork of the plants and animals that live in that part of the world. As students roam the halls, from Australia to Africa to Antarctica, they will walk over more than 50 animals stenciled onto the polished concrete floors that cover two-thirds of the 75,000 square foot building.
Jeffco Concrete Contractors, Tuscaloosa, Ala., was the polishing contractor that brought this world safari theme to life. President Jeff McCool says over the last five years his company polished floors in nearly three dozen schools across the state. But the floors at Big Sandy were unique. “There was a lot of detail in this project. It took extra time to do these animals, but the crew was experienced and the project turned out really well,” he says.
The case for polished concrete
Ward Scott Architecture, Tuscaloosa, Ala., was the architect of record on the Big Sandy project. James Ward, principal with Ward Scott Architecture, explains the southern part of Tuscaloosa County has experienced population growth over the last 30 years, resulting in overcrowding in its elementary schools. The Tuscaloosa County Board of Education recognized the need to provide more classrooms while members of the communities near Big Sandy Creek welcomed the prospect of having their own school.
“The board’s vision was to provide a school with a warm environment that could be the heart of this community," Ward stated. "The recent school dedication demonstrated the success of the board’s vision when a large ‘Big Sandy’ gathering celebrated the opening of the new school.”
Along with a desire to offer more classrooms in southern Tuscaloosa County and create an anchor for the surrounding community, the board of education wanted an inspiring learning environment that was also budget friendly. That’s where Deborah Roy, Interior Design Professionals, Inc., Tuscaloosa, Ala., came in. As the interior designer on the Big Sandy project, Roy looked for flooring options that would help the school district balance longevity, maintenance ease and budget, all while creating an environment that would spark the imaginations of the young students.
On past projects with intricate design patterns, Roy specified water jet cut VCT. But with polished concrete, she was able to achieve the design she wanted, offer a floor with a long lifespan and cut maintenance costs. “The school system spends up to $15,000 a year on waxing, stripping and mopping its VCT floors. Polished concrete gave us lower maintenance requirements, having only to mop the floors and saving the school system thousands of dollars,” Roy stated.
The polishing process
Jeffco was a sub for the company that won the concrete package on the school project. From the beginning, McCool made it clear to the concrete contractor what he needed from the floor to make the polishing process a success. “I was in his ear to tell him to pour a good, flat floor,” McCool says. “I tell the concrete contractor if I have good concrete to work with, I can give him a good looking polished floor.”
McCool regularly offers the concrete place and finish contractor several tips that will contribute to a concrete surface that it ideal for polishing:
- If it’s going to rain, don’t pour.
- Pay attention to specified F-Numbers.
- Leave a smooth finish — don’t over trowel, and don’t burn the floor.
- Don’t edge your joints.
- Use common sense to avoid stains and damage — don’t let anyone cut anything on the floor with something that could leak oil, and make sure scissor lift tire treads are free of screws and other debris that could gouge the floor.