Work on new Veterans Affairs medical center in Aurora could stop

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DENVER -- The sign just inside the locked fence at a construction site in Aurora reads, “Future home of the VA Medical Center."

It’s encouraging for the hundreds of thousands of Veterans like Ralph Bozella who call Colorado home and rely on the Veterans Affairs for health care. “Yes, I was very proud of my service I served my country,” said Bozella in an interview with Fox31 Denver.

However, this project has been locked in battle after battle over design changes, cost over-runs and construction delays.

Now, Fox31 Denver has learned work on the state of the art facility could stop altogether. Congressman Mike Coffman agrees saying, “A work stoppage is possible, certainly.”

Congressman Coffman represents the Aurora District where the new hospital is under construction and he chairs the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee for Oversight and Investigation. Coffman tells Fox31 Denver, “I think we have to take their threat as real that they will walk.”

Coffman is referring to Kiewit-Turner, the construction company awarded the contract to build the new hospital.

Initially, the project was to be a joint venture with the University of Colorado Hospital with a price tag of approximately $200 million. The cost ballooned to $604 million when the VA decided to go it alone.

Now even that figure is called into question by an internal memo from the Department of Veterans Affairs which says the cost to build the current design is nearly $200 million more or $800 million total.

Kiewit-Turner maintains it can’t build the design for less than $1 billion and it has taken its case to the United States Civilian Board of Contract Appeals. The Board’s decision could determine if construction continues or if workers walk away.

I think whenever you take a project that’s half way done and you walk from it the ability to go back and complete it becomes more difficult as the time elapses,” said Coffman.

The consistent delays and now the possibility construction could stop altogether angers many veterans like Bozella as well. "The veterans community has waited for this hospital for about 14 years now."

Currently Bozella and other veterans can seek treatment at the existing VA Medical Center at 1055 Clermont Street in Denver. The facility was built following World War II in 1948. “Well the facility can give you a sense of depression that’s what I mean. It’s an older place and just the whole set up of it and yet the people work really hard. The staff is a great staff,” Bozella said.

The public affairs officer for the VA Health Care System in Eastern Colorado, Daniel Warvi, agrees the facility is showing its age, “Yes, it’s an aging facility and we’ve known since 2004 that we’ve had to move.”

Still, Warvi says he’s proud of the work that’s being done at the existing hospital and the level of care that’s provided to veterans. “I’ve heard veterans say it’s falling apart and decrepit and one of our challenges is to maintain it to the high standard that the VA holds us to.”

Even if Kiewit-Turner doesn’t stop work, as it threatens in its complaint, serious doubts are being raised about finishing the project on time.

Fox31 Denver Investigative Reporter Tak Landrock put that question to Congressman Coffman. “Right now does it look like this project will be done by April 2015?” Coffman replied, “My guess is judging by what’s happened so far is 2015 probably will not be a date of completion.”

That means Bozella and more than 160,000 veterans like him will have to keep waiting on a facility that was promised more than a decade ago.

It gives even more meaning to a small pin he’s been wearing on his collar since 2011.

The pin is a gold shovel with the letters “BTDT.” It stands for “Build the Damn Thing.” Bozella explains, “That means let’s get it done.”