Construction equipment and supplies for the new veterans health center remain unused along Route 68 in Butler Township. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which ended its lease with an Ohio company slated to build the center, is determining its options.
BUTLER TWP — The future of a veterans health center on Route 68 is in limbo after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs ended the lease with an Ohio company that was slated to build it. Jo Schuda, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman, said Tuesday the department still is determining its options. Veterans Affairs on Aug. 9 terminated the lease with Westar Development of Aurora. According to a VA statement, “VA determined that due to false and misleading representations made by Westar Development Company during the Butler Health Care Center lease procurement, the Butler lease should be terminated.” Schuda said she couldn’t elaborate on what those falsehoods and misrepresentations were. Veterans Affairs may take the company to court. According to the VA statement, “VA takes these allegations very seriously, and will aggressively pursue any and all legal actions necessary.” Westar officials could not be reached for comment. The new center, which would replace the nearby main building at VA Butler Healthcare on New Castle Road, was set to open in 2015. Township Commissioner Ben Simon, board president, said news of the contract termination was disappointing. “It was a great project for this area and the area’s veterans,” Simon said. “I don’t know where they’re going to go from here.” John Cyprian, director of Butler County Veteran Services, said the situation is troubling. “Hopefully, they can work it out,” Cyprian said. He said those overseeing the project should have properly vetted Westar to discover any erroneous information sooner. Cyprian pointed out the process leading up to the Westar contract did not include public input. “It just seems there should have been more involvement,” he said. Even if Veterans Affairs decides to seek new prospective builders or award a contract to one of the previous applicants, there is another issue. Westar owns the 21 acres in the Deshon Woods where the center would be constructed. “The land ownership was transferred,” Simon said. Under the canceled $75 million contract, Westar would have erected a three-story, 168,000-square-foot building. Veterans Affairs would have leased the land and building from Westar for an annual $7.6 million payment with a 20-year term. The center’s services were to include primary care, mental health, dental, diagnostic, laboratory, pathology, radiology, pharmacy and physical rehabilitation. The groundbreaking for the project was April 5. Veterans Affairs stopped construction June 21 because of its initial findings about Westar. The company came under scrutiny in April after firing its senior vice president, Robert Berryhill, who was indicted on charges of stealing money from two firms while serving as the senior vice president at another company — Carnegie Management and Development in Cleveland. That company has no connection with the project in Butler. Last month, Berryhill was sentenced to a prison term of up to six years and four months in federal prison.