Private donations used to switch out wood that buckled after moisture caused expansion
CHAMPAIGN — One of the newest and "greenest" buildings on the University of Illinois campus is already getting a replacement floor, at a cost of more than $300,000.
A new wood floor was recently installed in the central atrium of the $60 million Business Instructional Facility, which opened in 2008.
The original parquet-like floor recommended by the facility's celebrated architects, Pelli Clarke Pelli, had buckled in several places, and tests showed it was caused by expansion from moisture, College of Business officials said.
After two consecutive years of repairs, the college decided to replace it this summer with a more stable recycled-wood plank floor. The cost was covered by private donations, said Tracy McCabe, assistant dean of external and alumni affairs.
"We're not using any state money," McCabe said.
The old floor was cut cross-grain and chosen for its beauty and sound absorption, he said. But it was only a quarter-inch deep, and the small wood tiles expanded with humidity and pressed against each other, causing the floor to buckle, he said. A band of cork around the edges was designed to allow for expansion, but it wasn't enough.
"Frankly, by our third summer it was looking like a topography map," McCabe said.
The problem surfaced in 2010, two years after the building opened, and several sections were removed and reworked, he said. Then, last summer, the college replaced a large section of the 7,700-square-foot floor with carpet to relieve the pressure he said.
The college consulted with the architects, who were surprised but said the material performs differently depending on where and how it's used, McCabe said.
The flooring had been used elsewhere in museums and other facilities, with similar ongoing maintenance problems, McCabe said. But those buildings don't have as much foot traffic as the "BIF," as it's known, which has had twice as much use as planners anticipated, he said.
"It has become the hangout place on the south end of campus," McCabe said, particularly on Sunday nights, when students go there to study, work or drink coffee from the Espresso Royale inside.
McCabe said the college explored whether the architects or other contractors could be liable for the cost, "because if they were, we were going to hold them to it."
But tests ruled out any problems with the installation, materials or construction, he said. The tests also showed that a glycol leak from a broken utility pipe just after the building opened was not responsible for the buckling, he said.
The college budgeted $28,000 for the tests performed by STAT Analysis Corp. of Chicago, chosen by Gorski Reifsteck, the architectural firm overseeing the installation of the new floor. They tested the wood, glue and the concrete underneath, to ensure the problem wouldn't recur with a new floor.
"We were just trying to figure out why this was happening," he said. "At the end of the day, it was happening because of the humidity in central Illinois. ... An unusual floor performed oddly."
The college could have continued to maintain the floor annually at a considerable expense, but it chose instead to replace it with a more durable floor, partly because of concerns over safety, he said. They also didn't want to have the area closed off for extended periods, he said.
The new recycled-wood laminate floor is more stable and environmentally friendly, in keeping with the building's green standards, he said.
In 2009, the Business Instructional Facility was awarded the world's most prestigious honor for sustainable design — platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED rating system.
Designed by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli, the four-story building has solar panels, a "green" roof with plantings that provide insulation and reduce water runoff, a super-efficient heating and cooling system, sensors that determine temperatures and light level, and triple-pane windows.
The college considered tile or terrazo for the new floor, but a donor stepped forward to help cover the estimated $312,000 cost of the wood, McCabe said.
The recycled-wood laminate planks don't expand as much as the old version and have a rich, varied grain, McCabe said. More cork strips have also been added to absorb the pressure from expansion.
"It's a smarter thing to have on that floor," he said, and "we're not taking away from the beauty of the space."