DEFOREST — Pipes, lengths of steel and other materials are no longer stored outside.
There are massive dedicated spaces with overhead cranes, welding stations and plasma cutters for custom metal fabrication, plumbing and sheet metal work.
One room of the more than 207,000-square-foot fabrication facility is 60 feet wide and 300 feet long, fully enclosed and is solely for stainless steel pipe work to avoid cross contamination for products that can be used in laboratories and food-grade machines.
Next door, a new 69,000-square-foot office building includes hundreds of ergonomic desks that can be raised and lowered with the push of a button. There are walls of glass to bring in natural light, a training center, geothermal heating and cooling, underground parking and a café with Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances.
A 19,500-square-foot building to service a fleet of trucks is also under construction and scheduled for completion in spring.
A $60 million investment has moved one of Madison’s oldest companies to a new community and larger, more efficient facilities.
But the relocation to DeForest from a 14-acre, 10-building complex along Pennsylvania Avenue goes beyond new work spaces.
Hooper Corp. has shortened its name to Hooper while General Heating & Air Conditioning, a company it has owned since 1994, will also take on the Hooper name and has moved from Madison’s South Side to the new 50-acre Hooper campus near highways 19 and 51.
The moves are designed to better position Hooper for the future, help retain and attract employees and provide avenues of growth for the business that has about 1,200 employees around the country and annual revenues of $375 million.
“It means everything,” Steve Lindley, Hooper’s president since 2019, said of the new facilities. “It’s kind of foundational for our continued growth.”
A ribbon-cutting to officially unveil the facilities is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Monday and will include village officials and construction partners. A larger community grand opening celebration that includes tours will be held in 2022.
3 years’ planning
Planning for the project has been in the works for three years and construction started in September 2020 before supply chain disruptions and material shortages intensified due to COVID-19, Lindley said.
Hooper’s expertise is threefold. Its electrical power systems work includes building transmission lines, distribution facilities and substations. It also works extensively at trimming trees around power lines and on emergency storm response.
The company’s mechanical fabrication work includes building fire protection, heating and air-conditioning systems, custom metal fabrication, plumbing and processing pipes, some up to 36 inches in diameter that can be used in geothermal systems.
Hooper also provides local service on fire protection, heating and cooling and plumbing systems to both residential and commercial customers.
Its work can be found at places like Epic Systems in Verona, SHINE Medical Technologies in Janesville, Sub-Zero and Promega in Fitchburg and American Family Insurance in Madison.
It also does work for area hospitals and clinics, Madison Gas and Electric, Dairyland Power, We Energies, Cardinal Glass and some of the largest construction firms in the state like J.H. Findorff & Son, JP Cullen & Sons, Kraemer Brothers and Ideal Builders.
The new fabrication facility, considered one of the most advanced in the country, means many projects can be built indoors and not at a job site, which can be hampered by extreme temperature swings depending on the season.
The climate-controlled fabrication space with ventilation systems at individual work stations, allows for more efficient, better quality and safer work. In addition, employees no longer have to dig materials out of piles of snow in the winter or worry about theft from job sites.
Jib cranes scattered throughout the fabrication facility also reduce injuries and speed production on projects that involve heavy parts.
“We don’t have to manhandle things anymore,” said Sean Kuzdas, the company’s pipe fabrication coordinator. “It’s huge. Everything is linear. Raw material at one end (of the building), finished product at the other end.”
On a recent tour, one worker in the stainless steel fabrication space used an automatic orbital welder to close seams on 1-inch piping rated for the nuclear systems at SHINE, which is building a medical isotope production facility in Janesville.
In the pipe processing area, which has a $100,000 plasma cutter, a semitrailer held massive 36-inch pipes for the geothermal system at EPIC while in another area of the facility, sheet metal, destined for duct work was being cut using a press.
The building has a central receiving area and dedicated space for storing pipes, sheet metal, copper tubing, steel and other materials used in its work.
“It just makes things easier having everything under one roof and not in the multiple buildings we had before,” said James Espinosa, Hooper’s facilities director. “It makes life a lot easier and we’re already seeing the benefit of it.”
Hooper was founded in 1913 by Charles A. Hooper who started his company from an apartment he shared with his wife at 620 State St. He incorporated in 1928 as C.A. Hooper & Co. and moved that year to 453 W. Gilman St. It’s also the same year Hooper completed major plumbing work at Camp Randall Stadium and Bascom Hall and began working on power plants for MGE and Wisconsin Power & Light Co.
The company expanded into high-voltage power line construction in 1938 and during World War II worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After the war, Hooper established its electrical power division and in 1954 outgrew its Gilman Street operation and moved to 2030 Pennsylvania Ave.
The company added fire sprinkler work in 1970 and in 1994 purchased General Heating & Air Conditioning, a move that boosted the company’s overall growth and broadened its customer base to include more residential customers. There was work on the Kohl Center, which opened in 1996, and on Overture Center, that opened in 2004. The company also expanded its electric power division to include more storm recovery projects including the aftermaths of hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012.
Hooper, since its founding, is privately held, comprised of shareholders who also hold active management positions within the organization, said Amy Griffin, a Hooper spokeswoman. The number of shareholders and percentage of ownership held by each can fluctuate year to year, and upon retirement shareholders sell their shares back to the company. The company also has regional offices in Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Michigan.
The corporate headquarters building sits on a ridge overlooking an oak savanna. Walls of glass provide sweeping views, there are outdoor patios and conference rooms, lounges, a cafeteria and a fitness center all flooded with natural light. The building also incorporates materials used on other Hooper jobs and in some cases pipes and duct work have been left exposed instead of hidden behind a wall or above a ceiling in an effort to showcase the company’s craftsmanship.
Employees in both the office and fabrication facility were consulted in the designs of each building, plus the management team toured other facilities around the country to help formulate the layouts.
“We want this to be a space where our folks are happy to be, feel comfortable and feel safe, and I think we’ve done that with this building,” Lindley, 55, said of the headquarters. “And with the building down there, the fabrication facility, it’s the building that our guys wanted. We really think that we stack up well in the top tier of these (types of) facilities not just in the Midwest but the country.”