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Jul
2013
8

Aurora, CO Is Home to Latest Failed Veterans Affairs Hospital that Should Have Used a PLA

Only in Dreams: Aurora, CO's VA hospital is incomplete, more than $200 million over budget

Only in Dreams: Aurora, CO’s VA hospital is incomplete and more than $200 million over budget


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In the works since the late 1990’s, the Veterans Affairs Hospital proposed for Aurora, Colorado is now $200 million over budget and unlikely to be open in the Spring of 2015 as hoped.  After endless changes to the plans, construction ground was broken in 2009, yet construction did not begin until 2012.  With progress again at a standstill, all parties involved are deflecting blame and shrugging off responsibility, according to the Denver Post:

Kiewit-Turner, the builder, has asked for tens of millions of dollars in change orders. The company has told the department the design it is working from is “beyond the scope” of the $610 million cap.

The VA appeared to pin the blame on the architects and engineers in the January letter. The department said the design  was $199.2 million, or 34 percent, over budget and demanded they cut the project to conform to the cap.

But the design team confirmed that the hospital could be built for the original price, the VA said in its statement Friday.

Now Kiewit-Turner must justify why it can’t do it for that amount, Washington-based VA spokeswoman Josephine Schuda said.

“To date, the prime contractor has not provided VA with documentation substantiating its position regarding the design estimate,” Schuda’s statement said.

The complex has an $800 million budget. $610 million is intended for the hospital itself.  Plans began for a new facility in 1995 and originally revolved around sharing facilities with Colorado University.  However, when Vietnam vet Artie Guerrero made a new stand-alone VA hospital, his personal mission in 2003, the ball got rolling on the Aurora VA.  Guerrero tracked down VA Secretary Anthony Principi at an event in the mountains of Snowmass, CO.  His case was compelling enough to get Principi onto the hospital’s campus, according to a separate Denver Post article:

I told him to come down, make an appointment, come talk to us, see what we’re dealing with, help us get a new hospital,” Guerrero said.

Principi agreed to hear the veterans out. At a later meeting at the Anschutz campus in Aurora, a few dozen people sat around a conference table and made their case.

Guerrero said Principi was moved. Principi had reached across the table, looked at Guerrero and said, “We’ll build this hospital for you, and we’ll have a 50-bed spinal unit,” Guerrero recalled.

Since that day the project has been a topic of popular debate.  Costs rose as the original plans were drawn up and projected before the recession. Some have argued to go back to the original plans of sharing a facility with CU while some have argued to scrap the project altogether.  During the height of the recession, the organized labor community argued that a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) should be put in place to help ensure a quality, on-time product and to build apprenticeship programs in the region that could boost veteran hiring through the Helmets to Hardhats program. But these suggestions were ignored, continuing the Veterans Affairs department trend of ignoring veteran hire and quality labor.

Observers are pointing out similarities between this project and a stalled VA hospital in Orlando which also neglected a PLA and is now stuck in limbo, millions of dollars over budget.  In both cases, contractors appear underqualified and lacking the type of organization prowess needed to successfully erect a hospital campus.

In 2009, as ground was breaking on the Aurora project, Pam Bennett of Square State wrote about the need for a PLA to help veterans enter the workplace:

Right now we are in very tough economic times.  Jobs are scarce for many working people.  It can be even more difficult for a veteran.  We must make the construction of the VA Hospital in Aurora a starting point for veterans reentering the workplace. Give these GI’s training and a job, help them avoid unemployment after discharge.  Give them an education and a trade to help them have work for life.

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One Comment on “Aurora, CO Is Home to Latest Failed Veterans Affairs Hospital that Should Have Used a PLA”

  1. We have proven in the state of Colorado that PLA projects are the best projects we have done several successful PLA projects across the state for instance the Pueblo Airport Generation Station or (PAGS) which included 4 gas fired power houses. That large project finished 30 days ahead of schedule and 30 million under budget, Comanche power house is another one that finished ahead for schedule and under budget and is actually producing 80 megawatts more that originally planned. We currently are working two more projects for Pueblo County that are ahead of schedule and under budget. We tried as hard as we could to get a PLA on the VA Hospital and we were pushed aside. Now look at them, they are destroying that important project, we also have the UA VIP and the Helmets to Hardhats programs that would have put Veterans on that project building it. What a shame.

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