For the University of North Carolina Tar Heels men’s basketball team, the Dean Smith Center isn’t just an arena where games are played. The venue and its locker rooms are all an important motivator for players and an invaluable recruitment tool for impressing potential athletes. Since the last updates to the locker rooms were 15 years ago, the team decided it was time for an upgrade that matched their reputation as a breeding ground for many of the sport’s top athletes.

The goal of the $5-million locker room renovation was to not only modernize the space, but also to rival those found in top NCAA programs, serving as a point of pride for the athletes as one of the best off-the-court spaces in college basketball.  In addition to expected upgrades to showers and toilets, the extensive renovation also included spaces that maximized the locker room’s use, including a nutrition and beverage station, therapy areas, a media room for press conferences and interviews, team meeting and video space, a player’s lounge and separate locker areas for players, coaches and staff. “With so many wet areas and surfaces that required frequent cleaning, tile installations were a prominent part of the overall project,” said Nyle Wadford, president of Neuse Tile service, the National Tile Contractor's Association (NTCA) Five-Star Contractor chosen for the project. “It was crucial for our team to be able to rely on the performance of Laticrete products when dealing with so many different installations on such a multi-faceted project.”

The project presented a few different challenges the teams would have to face. First was the high-profile nature of the project. The University of North Carolina’s basketball team is one of the most prestigious, earning a top 10 national ranking year after year and producing many NBA athletes. Neuse Tile knew from the outset that this facility would double as a recruiting tool and a functioning facility for the basketball team, so the space would need to “wow” visitors while withstanding heavy everyday use. Because of changes in preferences and long lead times on the materials that were originally specified, the project experienced multiple tile changes. Neuse Tile was called upon to find new sources for products with narrow variance. With each change, hard samples had to be sent out of state for approval from the design team and project committee.

Ultimately, Neuse Tile’s relationship with local vendors proved to be crucial in the attempt to provide options that were within design specifications, readily available in the right quantities and the right color of Carolina Blue. Finally, the entire renovation was limited to just seven months, with an expected completion prior to the start of the 2016 college basketball season. Neuse Tile was only given two months to complete their part in an effort to allot enough time for the other trades to complete theirs as well. The schedule was ultimately compressed even further due to the demanding materials selection and approval process, resulting in final completion just hours before the grand opening gala.

The project used approximately 6,000 square feet of large-format, glass and mosaic tiles that were installed by Neuse Tile during the locker room renovation, each with associated waterproofing and substrate preparation. Laticrete products were used in conjunction with various Tile Council of North America (TCNA) installation methods to resolve many issues during the construction process. Products were chosen not only for their specific performance, such as Laticrete 4-XLT being the ideal large and heavy tile mortar solution to its non-sag performance and its shear bond strength, but for how well they worked cohesively to solve the problems at hand.

The rapid curing formula of the Hydro Ban waterproofing product allowed multiple phases of the work to proceed simultaneously with careful coordination. Completed and often concurrent  installations included mud-set installations, the use of various membranes, thinset installations on concrete, large-format glass wall tile, extensive waterproofing, the use of linear drains and preformed niches and tile installations in the construction of therapy pools.

Since the completion of the project, the men’s basketball locker room is now considered among the best locker rooms nationwide and continues to be a talking point for the school at large. “Our many years of experience, technical knowledge and craftsmanship as an NTCA Five-Star Contractor were called upon during this process,” said Wadford. “That, and a great deal of collaboration from the entire construction team, as well as the product solutions from Laticrete, made this tightly scheduled project a huge success.”