VA Plans for Progress

When this stage of the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services Project Acorn is complete the campus, situated on 160, acres will exceed 1 million square feet of work space, said project manager Gary Butterfield.

CARES, the VA’s strategic plan, initially called for a combining of the Biloxi and Gulfport campuses. Then Hurricane Katrina closed the Gulfport campus permanently, Butterfield said.

Named in an employee contest, Project Acorn signifies the anticipated long-term growth campus, Butterfield said.

“It ensures we’ll be here a long time, strong and enduring for the veterans,” he said.

More than $157 million in federal money has been earmarked for the six current projects at the Biloxi VA. More projects are planned after this phase is completed in April 2012, Butterfield said, bringing the total funding for the upgraded, renovated complex to $310 million.

Butterfield oversees six contractors, 30 subcontractors and an average of 750 construction workers daily. At peak, he expects to have 1,200 workers employed.

Current projects include:

n A clinical addition connected to the hospital that will provide space for outpatient surgery and a step-down unit, as well as primary and specialty care clinics

n A 26-bed rehabilitation facility to train sight-impaired veterans in the skills for independent living

n A parking garage with 975 spaces

n A 98,000-square-foot mental-health facility

n A 105,000-square-foot extended-care facility that will have 96 inpatient beds

n Upgrades to support the construction projects such as the expansion of the chilled water and steam plants and their distribution systems, and an overhaul of the electrical system. Site work includes surface parking, relocating underground utilities, roadwork and landscaping.

The helicopter landing pad, which is rarely used, will become a green space in the center of the campus, Butterfield said.

Projects in the next phase will include a new food-production kitchen, information-technology space and additional patient care “to replace what we lost in Gulfport,” Butterfield said.

No services to veterans are being reduced, although parking availability has been minimized, said Roy Griggs, public information officer for the Biloxi VA.

Free valet parking at Building 1 is available to veterans, Griggs said.

Construction is everywhere, tucked behind chainlink fences that have taken over valuable parking lot spaces. “It’s unusual to have that much going on at once,” Butterfield said. “Veterans and employees just understand this is all worth it.”

As services at the hospital expand and increase, more employees will be added. “It will create new jobs,” Butterfield said. “The exact number, we don’t know yet.”

The VA Gulf Coast Health Care System serves 56,000 veterans, Griggs said. In addition to the main facility in Biloxi, the VA offers services at community-based outpatient clinics in Mobile, Eglin, Fla., Pensacola and Panama City, Fla.

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