VA expected to announce stand-alone Aurora hospital

The announcement is considered a major victory for Colorado lawmakers, who have lobbied vociferously for the stand-alone hospital, which will serve veterans in eight states.

The project was initially estimated to cost $1.1 billion, but Congress has authorized only about half of that. It's unclear whether tomorrow's announcement by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki will include a commitment by the Obama administration to push for more money — or whether planners have decided to scale down the project.

Officials say that a significant drop in construction costs over the last several months may make it possible to build the facility at a significantly lower cost than originally planned.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Golden Democrat, in whose district the hospital will be located, met with Shinseki within the last several weeks and personally lobbied for the project. Several other lawmakers have made repeated contacts with both the Bush and Obama administrations to push for a final decision and the beginning of construction — eight years after the hospital was first approved.

Colorado Veterans Affairs director Bill Conroy was among those invited to a Washington, D.C., briefing with Shinseki tomorrow morning.

"Hopefully, it's good news," he said. "The current VA facility is very old. It was one of the main VA hospitals in the country that was in need of replacement."

The existing veterans hospital, at East Ninth Avenue and Clermont Street in Denver, opened in 1950. It was built at a cost of $10 million and, at the time, employed 600 people.

Veterans officials have asked for a new hospital with 1.4 million square feet of space and 76 inpatient beds, along with 32 intensive-care and 56 mental-health treatment beds.

The VA Rocky Mountain Network, which helped design the new hospital, is planning a press conference tomorrow in Denver.

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