Local contractors, suppliers share in company's growth

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Sunday, May 23, 2010
— To first-time visitors, the project sprouting in the Verona countryside for the last eight years induces a variety of adjectives.

"Incredible" and "unbelievable" usually top the list.

The same is said by Janesville-area contractors and suppliers when describing their good fortune in helping build the massive headquarters of Epic Systems, a maker of software for the health care industry.

Founded in Madison in 1979 as Human Services Consulting, the company started with an employee and a half. By 1983, it had nine employees and renamed itself Epic.

Epic now has 3,450 employees, and short-term projections call for it to rise to more than 4,600.

Fueling that growth is the ever-increasing number of medical facilities converting to electronic records. Epic's software stores and tracks the medical records of more than 83 million people—27 percent of the U.S. population.

With growth comes the need for space, and that involves a variety of Janesville-area companies.

Topping the list is J.P. Cullen & Sons, a 118-year-old company that is the general contractor at Epic's campus in Verona.

Epic originally tapped Cullen for a 100,000-square-foot expansion and renovation at its Madison headquarters in 1996. Shortly thereafter, Epic was out of space.

It found more with the 400-acre parcel in Verona, and construction started in 2002 on what is known as Campus 1, a conglomeration of five 300-employee office buildings, a dining facility and a 1,500-car parking ramp that's partially underground.

Cullen didn't build Campus 1. Despite the contractor's work for Epic in Madison, the Verona job went instead to competitor J.H. Findorff & Son.

"That was a huge blow for us," said David Cullen, the company's president and chief executive officer. "We thought we had a solid relationship, but, as it turned out, maybe it wasn't as solid as we thought."

As construction on Campus 1 wound down and Epic's growth continued, Cullen got another shot: It was named the general contractor for Epic's signature Voyager Hall and Epicenter, the campus' training center and auditorium.

"We had heard that things weren't going so great on Campus 1, and we had the opportunity to get back in," Cullen said. "We offered them Jim Schumacher and said we could do it better."

At the time, Schumacher was managing Cullen's restoration of the state Capitol. In addition to being very good at what he does, Schumacher established a relationship with Epic owner Judy Faulkner that clicked, David Cullen said.

Schumacher quips that he added the Epic responsibilities to fill his spare time.

His company arrived in Verona in 2005 and started construction on the Learning Campus comprising the 450,000-square-foot Voyager Hall and the nearly 195,000-square-foot Epicenter, a jaw-dropping 5,300-seat auditorium that can be divided into three smaller configurations.

With those finished in 2007 and Epic in need of more space, Cullen turned its attention to Campus 2, four office buildings that each would hold about 400 workers and a four-level, 760,000-square-foot underground parking ramp.

Describing the Epic campus as somewhat quirky is an understatement. Its mailing address is 1979 Milky Way, which represents the year it was founded and the celestial nature for which its buildings would be named.

Campus 1 buildings start at the top of the alphabet: Andromeda, Borealis, Cassiopeia, Deneb, Endor, Fomalhaut, Ganymede and Zodiac for the parking facility.

Campus 2 includes Heaven, Isis, Juno, Kohoutek and Yoda, the parking structure.

For simplicity, Cullen and Schumacher refer to the buildings by letter. Employees moved into K and J last year and will occupy H and I in June.

This summer, Cullen crews will start a 160,000-square-foot addition to Voyager Hall and build a dining hall—Building L, or Lyra—that will serve Campus 2 and a planned Campus 3.

"We're starting to run out of letters," Schumacher said.

Epic also has one of the largest commercial geothermal systems in the country. More than 1,500 300-foot wells heat and cool the campus.

Steve Dickmann, Epic's chief administrative officer, said the company will build a third campus that will include five more office buildings.

In addition to the company's ongoing need for offices, the pending Voyager Hall addition will provide more training space. Epic's clients spent a lot of time each year at the Verona campus, and the annual Users' Group Meeting draws 4,000 customers to the campus for one week each September.

"Epic's software deals with the lives of all of us from a medical point of view," Schumacher said. "Users have to be continually trained, because the software helps them make some pretty important 'yes' or 'no' decisions.

"This campus is really a teaching and testing facility."

Dickmann said Epic's software is a full suite of applications that runs off of one database. It encompasses everything from patient medical records to scheduling, registration, billing and insurance.

Initially, Epic targeted the software to ambulatory clinics. In the last decade, the company has focused on inpatient facilities.

"Health care is becoming so much more integrated," Dickmann said. "Where you used to have all these standalones, facilities are now integrated into systems."

The consolidating industry is following the banking and manufacturing sectors into the conversion to electronic records, which makes Epic's timing perfect.

"We have a very good product on a common database for all applications," Dickmann said. "The problem with some of our competitors is that their systems are patched and interfaced, and that often presents scalability problems."

When Cullen wraps up work on Campus 3, the Janesville contractor will have been responsible for nearly 3 million square feet of new construction, plus more than 1 million square feet of parking spaces. At the peak of construction, the site buzzes with more than 750 construction workers.

"The challenge for us is that Epic is growing at such a pace that they have nowhere else to go," Schumacher said. "When the need becomes the need, it's almost too late.

"The challenge is to orchestrate, schedule and make it all work to meet their needs."

Last updated: 9:48 am Monday, December 17, 2012

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