Published In February 2000
In 1895, the Erner and Hopkins Co., began furnishing the electrical industry in the Columbus, Ohio, area with poles, wires, and insulators. The business prospered until a fire on April 1, 1920, destroyed the company's property. Four of the men from the Erner and Hopkins construction department purchased the division from the existing stockholders and founded The Electric Power Equipment Company (EPE). In 1920, A.B. Weinfeld, F.W. McWilliams, E.L. Keller, and H.R. Hartman made $216,241.67 in gross sales. In 1925, the company became the original signatory contractor with Local #683 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Since those early years, EPE has grown to be a company with annual revenues of $12 million, employing an average of 100 to 130 people, 20 percent of whom work in the office. Today the company provides a full range of services to industrial, commercial, and institutional customers throughout central Ohio. For industrial projects, which include production facilities such as factories producing steel, glass, and plastics, EPE has installed automation and control systems, and has experience designing and fabricating special equipment to service its customers' needs. In the commercial office building and institutional markets, EPE provides its customers with engineering and design services for installing building automation, power distribution, uninterrupted power supply (UPS) and stand-by power generation systems, as well as communications and other low-voltage systems. "We offer our customers a complete line of traditional electrical and low-voltage services and installations," says James McAtee, EPE's president. In addition to providing 24-hour emergency service to its industrial and commercial customers, EPE is affiliated with a TEGG franchisee, which operates under the name Engineered Building Services (EBS). "TEGG's specialized testing procedures and standardized criteria allow EBS, with other TEGG franchise holders, to service electrical construction and testing customers on a national level," McAtee states. Columbus Crew soccer stadium There are stadiums built for professional football and major league baseball in almost every major city in the United States. Columbus, Ohio, however, is the first and only city that can lay claim to a stadium that was built specifically to house a Major League Soccer (MLS) team. EPE was part of the team that designed and built this 22,485-seat, privately financed soccer stadium under a strict eight-month completion schedule, which ended May 15, 1999. Hunt Sports Group, which owns the stadium, hired the Kokosing Construction Co. of Fredericktown, Ohio, in August 1998 to be the project's construction manager. Kokosing is a full-service general contractor specializing in commercial, industrial, and treatment plant projects. The company has completed numerous projects with EPE, working with them for more than 50 years. "During preparation for their presentation to Hunt, Kokosing came to us to discuss the projected cost of the electrical installation, including major equipment needs, switchgear, lighting systems, emergency and life/safety systems, fire alarm, datacom, and broadcasting systems," explains McAtee. With no designs for the stadium yet available, Kokosing was relying on the experience of EPE, as well as their tradition of partnering. Kokosing counted on EPE's ability to accurately consider the possible obstacles of the project, the potential equipment lead times, and to provide accurate cost estimates. They quickly realized that several important factors had to be decided before they could even begin designing the stadium. They first had to pin down decisions on such basics as: * Would its orientation be east to west, or north to south? * Would the games be played only during the day, or would there be night games on the team's schedule? * How would electricity be brought in from the existing power lines surrounding the site? "These factors were important in terms of determining the levels of power consumption and (giving us) the ability to provide the most accurate estimate possible," says McAtee. The construction/design team for the project also included NBBJ, a multispecialty architectural firm with offices in Columbus, Ohio, and Korda/Nemeth, also based in Columbus, a consulting engineering firm that offers services for building, site development, and transportation projects. In September 1998, Kokosing put the project's first package out for competitive bid. "We won the initial $120,000 bid package to install the stadium's primary underground conduit system by the end of September," says Robert Paulus, P.E. About 27 working days later, the company had installed 3.8 miles of PVC Schedule 40, concrete-encased conduit. From the completion of the initial conduit work, through the construction schedule, to the first nationally televised game on May 15 between the Columbus Crew and the New England Revolution, that pace would never let up. While EPE's team of electricians was still laying the underground conduit, Kokosing put the next package out for bid. Worth $1.1 million, this package called for installing the power distribution system, basic lighting, and basic life and safety systems. EPE's involvement in designing and planning this package gave it a competitive advantage. "All during the project, plans were being drawn up. The stadium and its systems were being designed and installed almost simultaneously," says McAtee. The main electrical service ended up to be 4,000 amps with four main distribution electrical rooms, going through a total of 43 lighting panels, plus 14 power distribution panels. In addition, EPE installed 23.5 miles of multiconductor communicator low-voltage cable, which includes the fire alarm, security, telephone, television, and sound systems. Throughout the remainder of the electrical portion of the project, worth $1.5 million, EPE performed additional work on a design/build, negotiated basis. For each phase of the construction of specific areas (such as locker rooms, parking lots, offices, and 30 loge boxes), EPE and Kokosing agreed on an overall budget amount before the design was refined. Then EPE performed the actual installation. The final package of $250,000 for the electrical work in the concession area was put out for competitive bid well into the general construction, and was also awarded to EPE. The stadium's total cost was $28.5 million, with EPE's electrical portion totaling approximately $3 million. The company averaged 30 electricians on the job site, with 70 journeymen and apprentices there during peak times during the eight-month schedule. The company installed 150,000 feet of 600-volt feeder cable and 900,000 feet of branch circuit wire. The stadium's owner wanted its design to be attractive to the soccer teams of major European leagues for tournaments and exhibition games and to help promote soccer in the United States. Toward that goal, the lighting system's level of illumination needed to be designed to emulate European soccer stadiums, taking into account the normal shadows made by the sun. To reproduce that style of lighting, the outdoor lighting system has 54 metal halide 2000-watt lamps on each of four poles. The poles are about 164 feet high and bend slightly forward at the top. "Many people came to me to say that we'd installed broken poles," McAtee recalls. There were also about 1,400 lighting fixtures installed throughout the stadium for general lighting. Another unique aspect of the project is that the stadium was designed to be used during soccer's off-season for events such as concerts, and rugby or lacrosse games. The owners also plan to accommodate youth soccer teams in an effort to promote the sport. Rising to the challenge "The fast-track schedule of the project was by far the hardest challenge to meet," observes McAtee, who credits EPE employees with the project's successful, on-time completion. "From the project managers, estimators, and purchasing staff to the general superintendent, electricians, and apprentices, EPE was not going to allow the completion of this stadium to be delayed, or the opening game not to be televised, because of us," he adds. "We consider problems to be opportunities to perform for our customer," adds project manager John Stricker. Stricker laid out all the drawings for the project for the field personnel. Another challenge EPE had to meet was to simultaneously design the electrical work of the stadium during the construction. According to McAtee, "Most of the (installation) work was performed during the winter months, which can be pretty harsh in central Ohio." McAtee also emphasizes that the commitment of EPE's people helped the firm meet this challenge successfully. For instance, EPE initially planned no shift work, but the weather and the constantly evolving design of the stadium, forced them to change that approach. Some double shifts were required almost from the beginning of the project, and for a short time, when their work was about 85 percent completed, the company instituted three eight-hour shifts, seven days a week. "Even with such rigorous working conditions, the entire electrical installation did not experience a single lost hour due to injury or accident," McAtee adds. As with many projects, the company was constrained by the progress of the other trades on the job. "Coordinating with the other trades, the designers, and the architects made it imperative that we communicate constantly and openly with all parties to fulfill the owner's requirements for completion," says Larry Brown, vice president of construction. This was not EPE's first stadium project. The company also worked on the electrical installation of the original Ohio State University stadium and its renovation in the early 1970s, which included upgrading the lighting system for night games. EPE also installed the electrical system for the area's AAA minor league baseball team at what is now known as Cooper Stadium. The firm has also performed work at numerous high schools and other amateur venues throughout central Ohio. The new millennium "Our people have always been the company's most important asset. Without them, we can't serve the customer," McAtee says. In the new millennium, EPE will also continue to emphasize the importance of its customers. Partnering with them, treating them fairly, and providing high-quality service at competitive prices and guaranteed installations has been the cornerstone of the company's philosophy since 1920. "Our goal is to establish long-term relationships that benefit all parties," McAtee says. EPE has, in fact, established relationships during the past 79 years with more than 500 customers who return to the company repeatedly to service their needs. "Our company has grown and prospered throughout the last century, and we plan to continue to grow throughout the next," McAtee says. All in the planning EPE plans to continue serving its customer base with the most modern computer systems and to take advantage of evolving estimating and project management software programs. "A customer that needs a communications network installed at its facility expects its electrical contractor to have practical experience in the technology," McAtee says. The company also plans to continually improve its safety procedures. "As new technologies arise, new safety procedures have to be developed and implemented to accommodate those changes," McAtee adds. Improved safety is best accomplished through training. EPE constantly trains its field personnel in changing customer requirements through seminars and lectures that upgrade employees' qualifications and skill levels. "The only thing we have to offer our customers is service, material, manpower, and installations performed productively and efficiently. Our goal for the future is to build upon our existing customer base and to recognize that past accomplishments are not as important as future successes," McAtee says. With 79 years of experience, a dedicated staff of highly trained electricians, a fleet of 40 vehicles and more than 25 pieces of specialty equipment including testers for circuit breakers, relays, and power quality meters, EPE is prepared to serve its customers. EPE has been an employee-owned company since its inception. Each employee has the opportunity to become a shareholder and to buy into the company's future. "The future of the company depends on the ability of management to plan ahead and to develop future industry leaders," McAtee says. The goal of the stock plan is the same - to ensure continuity and to develop leaders for the company's next generation. EPE seeks out employees who are willing to work productively. They also want employees who are able to grow while following instructions and procedures. "To take advantage of the changes that are constantly occurring in our industry and throughout the world," McAtee adds, "we must learn from the past, live in the present, and plan for the future." It is EPE's philosophy that a company that is not willing to adapt itself to a changing environment is bound to fail. "Our goal is to prepare the company for the fourth generation of EPE families to take over the business in the 21st century," he says. That doesn't seem unrealistic. Today, there are already second- and third-generation employees working for the company. More than 30 percent of the field personnel have been with the company for 20 years or more. Of the employees mentioned in this article, McAtee has more than 32 years of experience in all phases of electrical construction. After graduating from Ohio University in 1967 with a bachelor of arts degree in business administration and a bachelor of science and technology degree, he spent two years with the General Electric Co., in the technical marketing program. He came to EPE in 1970 as a purchasing agent, and filled the positions of purchasing manager, assistant vice president, and vice president before becoming president of the company in 1988. Brown has been with EPE for 40 years. Stricker has been with EPE for 19 years. Robert "Bob" Paulus has 27 years of experience in the electrical construction industry and has been with EPE for 14 years. BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to Electrical Contractor. She can be reached at (410) 394-6966 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.