DENVER - U.S. House of Representatives members grilled officials from Veterans Affairs Tuesday about the over-budget and delayed VA Hospital project in Aurora that is mired in litigation.
The Aurora VA Replacement Medical Center was originally bid for $604.1 million in Nov. 2011, but a dispute between the contracted builder Kiewit-Turner and the VA has left questions of whether the cost will double and if even the delayed opening date of May 2015 is achievable.
"Today we've had a chance to hear about many problems occurring with VA projects," said U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, a member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs that met Tuesday at the Colorado Capitol to learn more about the project's failures.
Coffman has introduced H.R. 3593 that would appoint special project managers from the Army Corps of Engineers to step in on the Aurora project and the three other hospitals under construction to help rein in costs and expedite construction.
"I'm concerned about the cost overrun," said U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, who also sits on the committee.
But he said the project also needs to be completed quickly.
"I want this top-level care available for our veterans," he said.
Lamborn said the answers given Tuesday by Stella Fiotes, executive director of construction for the VA, and Richard Bond, associate executive director, were inadequate.
"I'm still frustrated," he said. "Maybe they gave as good of an answer as they are capable of."
But it's still unclear how much over budget the project in Aurora will go with estimates coming in between $600 million and $1 billion.
Part of the confusion on the budget is also the reason why there are 16 lawsuits pending between contractors who say the VA needs to authorize more funding for the project and the VA that has delayed change orders and not authorized additional funding.
U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Greeley, asked officials why the secretary of the VA had refused to meet with contractors to negotiate outside of court and prevent costly and lengthy court battles.
"There's nothing that is going to change," Bond said. "This is a legal interpretation of a contract and we need the courts to decide."
Gardner said when there's a dispute over millions of dollars and a hospital that is not being built he'd "suggest we have someone else in the room like the secretary."
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