VA hospital held up by $3 million ‘zombie fence’

Zombie FenceThe new veterans hospital planned for Omaha is in danger of being delayed — possibly for years — by other VA projects that are taking far longer and costing many millions of dollars more than projected.

And the planned Omaha VA hospital, slated to open in 2018, already is experiencing cost overruns of its own that could further complicate its completion, said U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb.

His least favorite overrun: a $3 million security fence recently added to the project by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' national construction office.

Terry said the fence is meant partly to keep nonveterans out in the event of a disaster. Terry staffers have dubbed it the “Zombie Fence'' and joked about how it would keep the hospital safe in the event of a zombie invasion.

The Omaha congressman isn't laughing.

“They are screwing up to the point where they are jeopardizing the project and other projects from starting on time,” Terry said of the VA.

When built, the new medical center at 42nd Street and Woolworth Avenue is expected to cover more than 1 million square feet and rise as high as six stories in some spots.

Complete with a cancer center, a women's health clinic and a parking garage, the facility will replace the 60-year-old hospital on that site. The VA Medical Center serves 161,000 veterans who mostly reside in Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas.

The new construction won't come cheap: The price tag is estimated at $560 million, believed to be one of Omaha's largest public works projects.

Terry said he's hearing “rumors” about a potential delay to the project.

Zombie Fence

In late May, he requested an Inspector General's study of the VA construction office that is meant to shed light on the reasons for cost overruns and subsequent delays of VA projects around the country.

The study matters, he said, because delays in current projects will likely delay future ones such as Omaha's.

Mark Ballesteros, deputy media relations director for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said in an email that cost overruns do happen, sometimes prompted by increased post-Sept. 11 security standards.

“This may or may not cause a delay, depending how close to completion the project is and whether it is a phased project,” Ballesteros said.

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