VA brokers deal to restart over-budget, late hospital project in Aurora

Closed VA hospital construction site
The VA hospital construction site in Aurora has been closed over a contract dispute between the VA and its contractor.

Work on the over-budget and overdue Veterans Administration Hospital in Aurora is expected to start again soon, after the contractor walked off the job in a contract dispute.

The VA announced Wednesday that it reached a tentative deal with contractor Kiewit-Turner to restart the project.

The move comes after the agency says it agreed to come up with an extra $234 million, pushing the project cost now to exceed $1 billion. It should be finished and opened in 2017, four years after the original timeline. The 1.1 million-square foot facility will eventually replace the VA Medical Center at East Ninth Avenue and Clermont Street, built in 1950.

"This project is for Veterans. That has never been lost on us,” said Scott Cassels, executive vice president for Kiewit in a statement. “Kiewit-Turner, the VA, our subcontractors and all workers on this crucial project should operate in a manner worthy of their service. Today’s agreement reflects that commitment.”

When asked if someone would be held accountable for the delays and cost overruns, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson -- in town to speed up the process -- told reporters getting the project reopened is his first priority.

“My focus has been and will continue to be until we got people back at work, getting back to work," says Gibson. "Then what we’ll be doing is a series of deep dives looking at everything we didn’t get right and whether there are changes that need to be made.”

Gibson says he expects hundreds of workers will be back on the job next week. A team from the Army Corps of Engineers will manage the project at least in the short term.

"This isn't about building a medical center, but about building a facility where VA can provide high-quality health care to the more than 390,000 Colorado Veterans who have served our nation,” he said.

Gibson also apologized for the agency's handling of the process. But that didn't stop Rep. Mike Coffman from blasting the way the VA has handled the project.

“Why did it happen?" Coffman asked. "The most incredible level of incompetence and mismanagement, that is in fact difficult to explain."

A Coffman-sponsored bill aimed at speeding up construction and keeping costs under control at VA hospital projects passed the House earlier this year.