Whenever I travel back to my hometown, whether it's for the holidays or for some free meals, I find myself passing a mainstay of my childhood.

From the outside, Maple Leaf Elementary School has been tweaked here and there. The baseball field behind the building now has lights for night games. The parking lot has been repaved over and over again. Still, the two-story building's red brick still looks classic and rich after all these years.

The biggest difference seems to be the windows. The old wooden variety, whose top sections had to be opened and closed by Mrs. Wilhelm, Mr. Owens, and others from the inside with a long metal pole, have been replaced by plastic.

Since I haven't seen the inside in ages, I do wonder what the floors are like. I remember the stairs and hallways were covered by tile—lots of it. If I went inside today, by what I'm hearing, there's a chance I'd find polished concrete.

School districts, like other government entities and most households, have to do more with less. Voters, who are angry about a lot these days, may not be as accommodating to passing a school levy to raise their property taxes so the district can build a new school building. So aging school buildings may not be replaced like they were a few years ago.

An economical option

While new big box retail construction in the form of Home Depots and Wal-Marts has slowed in this economy, schools offer promise for contractors who polish concrete. Bill Herron, technical sales manager with Hardshine Technology Inc., a flooring contractor based in Huntley, Ill., says school districts are impressed by polished concrete's lower costs and maintenance. “It comes out of the same bucket of money teachers get,” Herron told me. “It's a shrinking fund.

“Remodeling of schools is big, especially in low-income areas,” Herron explained. “Some schools are in horrible shape, but they can't afford to knock them down and build new ones. But renovating them is moving forward. They're getting rid of their VCT (vinyl composition tile) and going to polished concrete for cost and maintenance advantages.”

Polished concrete in schools does have its own challenges. A flooring contractor must perform a lot more edge-work because of all of the stairways in a school, compared to a one-story big box store. School officials also like to have a decorative element somewhere in the floor, often in the lobby near the main entrance. “A challenge we have is districts like to put artwork in the floors,” Herron said. “It's kind of a crapshoot to bid on that.”

This is a good lead-in to invite you to read our feature story on polished concrete in schools on page 51. As CS contributor Peter Wagner writes, school districts also are turning to polished concrete so they can demonstrate they care are about sustainability.