Vital Signs

Prognosis improving for VA hospital

No matter how many doomsday reports flood local newspapers; no matter how many politicians cry foul; no matter how many Special Reports receive top billing on the 10 o’clock news – the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center will be completed.

“Kiewit-Turner is working diligently with Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop a final path forward,” says Tom Janssen, spokesperson for Kiewit-Turner (KT), the joint-venture contractor group heading up construction.

This path will materialize in spite of some major managerial missteps that, by most accounts, took place nearly five years in the past, at the beginning of the planning process. Sloan Gibson, deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs, told the House Veterans Affairs Committee on April 15 that he believed “the two most critical decisions leading to the current situation were made in 2010 and 2011.” 

These judgments played a crucial role in what has become the project’s lightning rod issue: the price tag, which has seemingly ballooned from just a bit less than $600 million to the current estimate of $1.73 billion. The truth of the matter, though, is that KT made it clear from the start: The allotted $600 million would not be enough to bring the design plans KT was given by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to fruition. So, it was agreed that blueprint alterations would be made in order to lower expenses. They just never were.

This all came to a climax in December 2014, when the United States Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA) heard case 3450, Kiewit-Turner a Joint Venture v. VA, and was asked, in part:

(1) “Did the contract modification known as SA-007 obligate the respondent, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to provide a design that could be built for $582,840,000? (2) Did the VA materially breach the contract by failing to provide a design that could be built for that amount of money?”

The CBCA ruled in favor of KT, which led to a temporary construction halt.

“Since the CBCA decision in December, the VA has been working with us to settle subcontractor claims,” says Janssen. “Most subcontractor claims have been settled, or are in the process of being resolved. Now, we’re waiting for Congress and the VA to come to an agreement on the funding process for the remainder of the project.”

The latest projection for construction completion is 2017, according to a press release by the VA in April.

One subcontractor, speaking on the conditioning of anonymity, says, “It’s been a whole different world out there since December. People are working together and progress is being made. It could have been done faster, but we keep plodding along. It’ll get done, one way or another.” cb

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