DENVER (AP) – The military awarded more than $400 million worth of construction contracts in Colorado in 2012, roughly in line with other years but especially significant as the state slowly emerges from the recession.

The projects include facilities for a new helicopter unit at Fort Carson, a new operations center for top-secret defense intelligence agencies at Buckley Air Force Base, National Guard and reserve centers in Colorado Springs and Loveland, and renovations at the Air Force Academy.

The best way to gauge the impact of the spending is to ask “What would happen if we didn’t have it?” said Don Addy, chairman of the Colorado Thirty Group, a nonprofit based in Colorado Springs that advocates for cooperation between the military and civilian governments.

“It would be a big hole because of the ripple effect,” Addy said, noting that the construction money is spread out among suppliers and subcontractors who work on the projects.

With its heavy concentration of military facilities, Colorado Springs was by far the state’s biggest beneficiary of the construction contracts, an Associated Press review of contracting activity showed. The money is crucial for the Colorado Springs area economy.

“The economy in Colorado Springs has been struggling and not recovering as fast as other areas of the state … because it’s not as diversified,” said Natalie Mullis, chief economist for the Colorado Legislative Council.

About $190 million worth of the 2012 contracts will be spent on facilities for the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, expected to be activated at Fort Carson in April. The Pentagon originally designated the unit as the 13th Combat Aviation Brigade but changed it to the 4th in mid-2012.

The projects include a hangar, control tower, barracks, refueling areas, roads and other infrastructure.

The brigade will have up to 2,700 soldiers and 113 helicopters. Construction to accommodate the unit is expected to cost a total of about $730 million, but not all the contracts have been awarded.

The Defense Department awarded contracts worth nearly $26 million to renovate a dormitory and gymnasium at the Air Force Academy outside Colorado Springs and more than $58 million for new National Guard readiness and training centers in Colorado Springs.

The largest single construction contract awarded in Colorado in 2012 was nearly $117 million for a new operations facility for military intelligence agencies at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.

About 3,500 military and civilian personnel work for secretive intelligence agencies at Buckley, including the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office.

The Pentagon also awarded a $10.5 million contract for a new Army Reserve center in Loveland.

More than $286 million of the 2012 contracts were awarded to Colorado construction companies. Hensel Phelps Construction of Greeley won the most, with contracts worth $226 million. Hensel Phelps’ Austin, Texas, office was awarded another contract worth nearly $45 million.

– By Dan Elliott, AP Writer

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