Photo courtesy Brasfield & Gorrie
Veterans Affairs is reviewing the new plan for the delayed Orlando project.

An ongoing dispute between the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs and general contractor Brasfield & Gorrie over design changes and delays at a $616-million Orlando hospital project escalated on June 15 when the agency notified the firm it had 10 days to deliver a new work plan or face termination. But the contractor contends that the VA has been unrealistic about schedule in light of the extensive design revisions.

In its "notice to cure," the VA's Office of Construction & Facilities Management cited the Birmingham, Ala.-based contractor's "failure and refusal to diligently pursue the work and insufficient workforce on the project." The agency indicated the contractor submitted a new work plan by the deadline of June 25, but neither the VA nor B&G would provide details. The agency stated it was reviewing the proposal but was unsure when it would respond.

The agency awarded B&G's Lake Mary, Fla., office a $260.3-million contract for the 1.2-million-sq-ft, 134-bed facility in September 2010, with completion scheduled for October 2012. B&G now estimates the cost of the work at $298.5 million, and the parties are at odds over a completion date. The VA estimates the project is 60% complete but about a year behind schedule.

B&G holds two other project contracts totaling about $73 million. Other firms are handling prime contracts valued at $80 million for the facility's energy plant, rehabilitation center and chapel.

The dispute centers on the impact of ongoing design changes, mostly related to electrical drawings and medical equipment selection. Ellerbe Becket, now working as AECOM after its 2009 acquisition by the larger firm, is the architect.

The VA contends it has adequately responded to design changes and that B&G could accelerate the project with more workers to complete construction by summer 2013.

Responding in a statement, B&G said the VA "is mismatching its expectations with the reality of the changes to the project," and that work cannot be completed by then. "We continue to receive waves of design changes," the contractor stated. B&G blames the delays on VA's slow response to the changes. The contractor says it "never stopped working diligently."

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, issued a statement critical of the VA and its decision to issue the cure notice.

"The Committee was (recently) assured by officials … that VA was working collaboratively with the contractor," he wrote. "That was clearly not the case."

Calling the project a "multimillion- dollar debacle," Miller added, "Pointing fingers and laying blame will not build the medical center. I expect answers immediately from VA on the status and cost of this project."