DENVER (AP) — The federal government awarded a final construction contract Friday to complete an over-budget veterans medical center in Aurora by January 2018.

The contract authorizes builder Kiewit-Turner to spend about $571 million more to finish the VA Hospital, on top of nearly $1.1 billion already spent.

Congress reluctantly approved up to $625 million in additional spending last month. The money is to come from other accounts within the Veterans Affairs Department budget.

The $1.7 billion total means the medical center will cost nearly triple the estimates of last year. Investigators blamed the overruns on multiple design changes and a decision by VA officials to use a complicated contract process they didn’t fully understand.

With the final contract signed, construction will speed up at the site in the eastern suburb of Aurora.

“It’s a relief,” said Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., whose district includes the hospital.

Coffman and the other members of the Colorado delegation have sharply criticized the VA while pushing Congress to approve the money to complete the medical center.

Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter said he was pleased the contract was done, noting it turns over management of the project to the Army Corps of Engineers. He said the corps will report regularly to Congress on progress.

Congress stripped the VA of the authority to manage large construction projects in the future when it approved the additional money in September. The Corps of Engineers will handle such projects in the future.

The 184-bed medical center in Aurora will replace an old, overcrowded hospital in Denver.

The new facility is a collection of a dozen large buildings connected by a long, soaring, glass-walled corridor. It’s near the University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Work on the VA medical center had been moving slowly since December, when a panel of judges ruled the VA breached the original contract by insisting on a design that couldn’t be built for the agreed-upon price.

The project was estimated to cost about $583 million in 2010 but had been rising steadily since then.

The VA has said the top executives on the project at the time of the mistakes have retired or been transferred or demoted, but members of Congress have been demanding that those responsible be fired.

Coffman said he was disappointed to learn Friday that the VA might not release the results of one of its internal investigations into what went wrong until next year.

By Dan Elliott, AP Writer

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