Humid or wet environments require the right kind of building materials, especially finishes, which are often the front line of exposure to moisture. Materials that are absorbent, prone to moisture damage or can support the growth of mold or other microbes are usually inappropriate for damp spaces. When Randolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia, renovated its athletic center, it was reluctant to use mineral fiber ceiling tiles over the swimming pool. Instead, the ceiling installer suggested a lightweight thermoformed tile, resulting in a stunning coffered ceiling that eliminates all concerns about getting wet.
The Randolph Athletics and Dance center was built in 1962 and received small updates in 1993 and 2000. In 2019, Randolph embarked on a major, $5 million renovation, renaming it the Michels Athletic Center. Many aspects of the old RAD were updated and enhanced, including the addition of a new fitness center, locker rooms and training rooms, and an upgrade to the gym’s HVAC system. The final phase of the project was revamping the indoor swimming pool, the Bradley W. Bateman Aquatic Center, which was upgraded and reconfigured from five lanes to six, making it eligible to host Division III competitions.
The pool’s original suspended grid ceiling was filled with old, stained and possibly moldy tiles (a fate often suffered by mineral fiber ceilings). It was removed entirely. The subcontractor that installed the new ceiling, IP Structures, put in all-new suspension grids. The tiles that were initially purchased to populate it were mineral fiber, a specialized type that claimed to be compatible with humidity and even steam. However, the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations said that it should only be cleansed “using a clean white cloth with water or a mild detergent and wiping the panels surface,” which suggests that the tiles should not be exposed to bulk water. There was concern that exposure, such as a roof leak, might cause the ceiling to absorb moisture and collapse.
At that point, IP Structures’ manager, Peter Tacl, suggested substituting Ceilume thermoformed tiles. Made of rigid vinyl, thermoformed tiles are impermeable to water and can be washed and fully immersed. Unlike common mineral fiber tiles, they do not support the growth of mold, mildew or other microbes, making them a good ceiling solution in pools, locker rooms, bathrooms, showers and other wet spaces. They are very durable, moderately flexible and resist breakage from impacts, such as a high-thrown water polo ball. Ceilume tiles are also an environmentally friendly choice — Greenguard Gold Certified to protect indoor air quality, made with recycled material and fully recyclable at the end of their service life.
The college took advantage of this change as an opportunity to upgrade the room’s aesthetics as well, selecting a more intriguing and dramatic look. Ceilume’s thermoformed tiles are three-dimensional, molded in both traditional and contemporary patterns to complement virtually any architectural style — 40 different styles in all. Randolph College selected a deep coffered ceiling, Ceilume’s Madison tiles in white, with a border of Ceilume’s Serenity at the room’s perimeter. Coffered ceilings have been popular since Ancient Roman times and are still effective today, providing eye relief and giving a bit of formality and grandeur to the space.
Working on a ceiling above a swimming pool can pose logistical problems, but IP Structures had full-platform scaffolding over the pool and, thus, easy access above. Installation went easily. “It was really simple,” Tacl related. “It’s light, it’s easy to ship. And it wasn’t overpriced…I knew the budget. It looks great.”
Brenda Edson, director of Randolph’s College Relations Office, agrees. “The pool is amazing-looking,” she said. “Students love it.”
The Bradley W. Bateman Aquatic Center, with its pool-appropriate ceiling, opened in 2021.