AURORA | Local leaders from the Veterans of Foreign Wars as well as former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who is running against Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, toured the construction site for the Aurora Veterans Hospital on Dec. 2.
Romanoff said the tour raised more questions than it answered.
“I don’t think we got a hard-and-fast guarantee,” he said when he asked officials when the new medical center would be open. VA officials deferred to construction officials who did not comment on any possible delays in construction.
In July, Kiewit-Turner, the contractor building the medical center, filed a complaint with the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals, threatening to suspend the project because it was $400 million over budget, bringing the total cost of construction to more than $1 billion. Department of Veteran Affairs officials in Denver have said the facility will cost $800 million, and that it will be open to serve its first veteran in October 2015 with Kiewit-Turner continuing construction on the project.
Romanoff said he asked the VA how the new medical center will interact with the Interstate 225 light rail set to open in 2016. The station will be within walking distance of the center, but veterans will have to cross a busy intersection at Fitzsimons Parkway to get to it. The Fitzsimons station will be on the north side of Fitzsimons Parkway near Sand Creek Park and off of the Anschutz campus.
VA officials said they were working with the Fitzsimons Transportation Management Authority to address those concerns.
William Thien, national commander-in-chief for the VFW also took the tour, and said he was impressed by the scope of the new hospital.
“There are a lot of parts to this puzzle. It’s probably going to be utilized by other states. It’s going to be that good,” he said.
Thien said the group was given a guided tour of the construction site where participants were driven around the perimeter. From there, Thien said they were given virtual presentations on what the completed hospital would look like from the VA and Kiewit-Turner separately. The Aurora Sentinel was scheduled to participate in the tour, but the offer was rescinded later.
The Kiewit-Turner presentation describes the scope of the project being 2 million square feet with 13 total structures. The medical center will include two inpatient facilities, three clinics, as well as a research facility and an energy center with solar panels. There are also plans for three parking structures on-site, according to the company’s presentation.
John Holland, a former national VFW Chaplain based in Denver who took the tour, said he was pleased to see specialty care services like a spine clinic, and additional space for veterans. He said the 182-bed facility will serve as a much-needed upgrade from the current Denver VA Hospital, which he says is overcrowded.
“This will really be a 50 percent expansion,” he said. “In the VA system, one day you could be overcapacity, the next day you can have open beds. You want to make sure there’s enough capacity there to take care of veterans.”
Romanoff said he asked the VA how they could expand in their new location. “Can you go up or out? The answer to that question is probably not up but maybe out,” he said.
“I’m not sure the tour was designed to answer, ‘Where did this project go off the rails?’ ” Romanoff said. “And who’s responsible, and how do we prevent that from happening again? I’m glad the project is making progress. A number of veterans are understandably impatient.”