Firm enjoys epic growth: New offices in Verona feature green architecture

Firm enjoys epic growth: New offices in Verona feature green architecture


VERONA - A golden dragon, a Chinese symbol of power and strength, sits atop the red roof that hangs over the entrance to Kohoutek, the newest building at the Epic Systems campus in Verona.

The second round of office buildings for the electronic medical records company is nearly halfway complete, prompting plans to vacate some office space Epic rents in Madison by the end of the year.

As Campus 2 takes shape, Epic is doing battle on a fast-growing front, with competition blazing to get physicians to forsake handwritten notes for data entered on a computer to track patients' health. Newcomers to the market include retailers Dell and Wal-Mart's Sam's Club.

"It's a little bit like the Wild, Wild West," said Michael Nolte, vice president and general manager of marketing for GE Healthcare IT in Boston.

Ironically, "Epic's Wild, Wild West" was the title of Epic Systems' annual users' group meeting, which drew about 3,600 participants from around the U.S. and beyond in September.

Company is growing

Epic, which was founded 30 years ago, devises software that covers a range of processes, from appointments to billing, patient test results and prescriptions.

"Epic provides software to health care organizations so they can take better care of patients by improving outcomes, enhancing the patient's experience and supporting research," the company says in a fact sheet.

"All applications are built on a single database so they work together to support patient care throughout hospitals, clinics and physician offices."

Even in a struggling economy, Epic is growing, adding about 200 employees this year for a total staff of 3,400, including a small office in the Netherlands with 35 employees. Revenues topped $600 million in 2008. Figures for 2009 have not been released yet.

Customers like Epic's products, said Kent Gale, founder and board chairman of KLAS, an Orem, Utah, company that monitors vendor performance. "Epic delivers a product that's been developed over 20-plus years. When they go and demonstrate it, generally they get very high satisfaction from physicians that see the product," Gale said.

As evidence of the company's growth, four construction cranes punctuate Epic's rural landscape. They have been moving steel girders to build the frame for the two final buildings in Campus 2, which will have four office buildings.

The first, Kohoutek, opened in August and houses 450 employees. Next up is Juno, expected to be ready in December. Isis and Heaven are scheduled to be finished in spring 2010.

The celestial-oriented names mesh with the main corporate sign greeting visitors to Epic's "intergalactic headquarters" at 1979 Milky Way, a tribute to the year Epic was established.

Every employee has an office, and no building is taller than three stories, factors that contribute to productivity, Epic has said.

In Campus 2, each office building is two wings connected by a sky bridge, providing more natural light, said Stephen Dickmann, chief administrative officer.

"In Campus 1, about 50 percent of the offices had windows. We were trying to maximize the number of offices with windows, so we came up with a design where 70 percent have windows," he said.

An underground parking ramp for Campus 2 will hold 2,000 vehicles and is topped by a green roof, covered by 18 inches of topsoil studded with grass, bushes, trees and native plants, "which really helps with storm water, all of which is treated on site," Dickmann said.

Campus 2 uses geothermal heating and cooling systems and will not burn fossil fuels for heat, he said.

And it has its own cave, discovered during the construction excavation. The cave is about 100 feet long, 30 feet wide and 6 feet high, Dickmann said. But it's not for employee use.

"It's been sealed so we do no harm," Dickmann said. "The UW Geology Museum says (researchers) can use it to do climate studies going back 140,000 years. It's amazing."

Campus 1 includes treehouse

Campus 1, completed in 2006, holds 1,500 employees in five buildings. There's also a cafeteria building, a 1,500-space parking ramp and a rustic treehouse designed for retreats.

The estimated cost of that building project was $150 million, though Epic won't reveal the exact price.

A horseshoe-shaped learning center with a 5,000-seat auditorium opened in 2007, with an estimated price of $100 million.

No figures have been given for Campus 2, either.

When it is complete, Epic will vacate the 100,000-square-foot former TDS office building it has occupied for the past several years at Mineral Point and Westfield roads, near West Towne Mall.

That will likely nudge the office vacancy rate on the Far West Side to nearly 20 percent, said Chris Richards, real estate associate with Grubb & Ellis/Oakwood.

"To me, it certainly hurts the speculative (construction) market. The back-filling of that space will take some time," Richards said.

Epic already has moved out of other offices it was renting but continues to occupy its previous headquarters in the former Odana School at 5301 Tokay Blvd.


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