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Construction Disputes Delay Much-Needed Army Hospital

Disagreements between the construction contractor and the government over final inspections sparked the latest delay.

Wed December 09, 2015 - Midwest Edition

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The U.S. Army took possession in July of a new hospital at Fort Riley, a project put on the fast track after its 2009 groundbreaking to replace Irwin Army Community Hospital, the oldest Army hospital in the nation.

But the planned completion in 2012 came and went, and now a ribbon-cutting ceremony set for mid-January 2016 has been scrapped. There’s no date set for the opening. No one is saying exactly why.

Disagreements between the construction contractor and the government over final inspections sparked the latest delay, said David Kolarik, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Kansas City District, which oversees the project.

The project has been plagued by numerous lawsuits alleging a mismanaged project, but the Corps says the lawsuits aren’t the cause of the most recent delay.

Political pressure is building to finish the work - even if that means issuing new construction contracts.

The Manhattan Mercury first reported in October the delay of the opening and the lawsuits over construction disputes. U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said that newspaper’s story was the first indication he had of problems - even though he had toured the construction in March and was assured he could expect its opening soon.

”I don’t have a lot of ability to resolve the battles between the subcontractors and the contractor, but I want to see a decision made that says, `That litigation is ongoing but that is not going to delay any longer the opening of the hospital,’’ Moran said.

”The litigation sounds convoluted - lots of parties, charges and counter charges - and soldiers and their families ought not to be held up as a result of what seemingly is endless litigation,’ Moran said.

Balfour Beatty Construction, a partner in the joint venture that built it, said Friday in an emailed statement it is not sure why the new hospital opening has been delayed.

”Fort Riley took possession of the new facility for its intended use in July and we are currently working with them to complete punch list items that have no bearing on the opening of the hospital,’ the company said. ”It’s a beautiful, high-quality facility that will serve the Fort Riley community well into the future.’

Moran said he has contacted the Corps. He expects a meeting later this month to determine what it will take to get the hospital up and running. He also sent a letter on Thursday to Assistant Secretary of the Army Katherine Hammack seeking answers to a series of questions and exploring the possibility of new contracts to finish construction.

A Dallas-based joint venture team of Balfour Beatty Construction and Walton Construction won the contract in 2009 to build a $334 million facility. By the time the framing of the hospital was completed in 2011, the cost had grown to $404 million. Fort Riley, home to the 1st Infantry Division, is 130 miles west of Kansas City, Missouri.

At least four subcontractors have sued in federal court, and the Balfour-Walton joint venture has filed its own claim against the Corps. The case is under review by the federal government’s Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals, an agency which rules on disputes between contractors and the military.

The subcontractors, contractor and the government have agreed to mediation.

Court documents in the various lawsuits outline numerous delays and disruptions caused by changes in work orders and lack of coordination. In one case, for example, drywall was installed while part of the building was still exposed to weather. That led to water damage that required some of the drywall to be replaced and some to be torn down for mold inspection.

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