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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — A top German state construction official said Friday that the Air Force’s demands to put Ramstein’s mall-hotel complex on a risky, fast-track schedule is why the project remains unfinished and is facing numerous problems.

Hubert Heimann, chief executive officer of Landesbetrieb Liegenschafts- und Baubetreuunng, told Stars and Stripes the agency wanted to hire a general contractor to head the construction but couldn’t because of the military’s ambitious schedule. He said German law requires design and planning to be completed before a general contractor can be hired.

To get the project done in the time the Air Force wanted, agency officials said they told U.S. officials they would have to go without a prime contractor and embark on a precarious design-as-you build plan.

“You can’t give a contract firm a contract without saying what you want,” Heimann said by telephone.

Air Force officials have blamed LBB for not hiring a general contractor as one of the chief reasons for the problems with the project.

Brig. Gen. Danny Gardner, director of installations and mission support for U.S. Air Forces in Europe, and Ingolf Deubel, the Rheinland-Pfalz finance minister, issued a joint statement on Friday.

“Both sides are in continuous talks,” the statement read. “People meet regularly and work hard to find solutions. Both sides are very willing to solve the problems.”

LBB sent a statement to Stars and Stripes in response to questions regarding the project, which has encountered so many problems that both German and American officials can not give a completion date for the massive 844,000-square-foot-building.

In the statement, LBB wrote that military officials demanded that the hotel portion be finished by the end of 2005, when the Air Force closed Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt. Other factors that contributed to the delays: bad weather, vandalism and the poorly constructed roof by a now-bankrupt contractor.

The statement also said that Air Force officials may not have formally received change orders in writing, but they knew about the major modifications. The agency added that U.S. officials were informed about the changes in weekly project meetings and in written minutes provided to them. The agency called upon the U.S. military to pay for the changes so that the project can be finished.

“Seeing it from the perspective of [LBB], it is further important now that LBB’s bills for change orders be paid soon,” a translated version of the statement said. “These bills are in accordance with German law.”

In an interview last week, Gardner said the Air Force cannot pay for changes they have yet to review or approve. Design flaws contributed to the more than 500 change orders to the project, and the state agency had not provided some of them to the Air Force, Gardner said in the July 3 interview.

The agency acknowledged the difficulty of processing so many change orders but stated many have now been provided.

The Kaiserslautern district attorney is looking into whether LBB gave contractors the go-ahead to make the changes without receiving written approval from the Air Force. The attorney’s office is investigating 20 people — including two American engineers — alleged to have committed fraud on construction projects at Ramstein.

In the past year, private contractors have withdrawn some or all of their workers from the site because the Air Force has not paid for hundreds of the changes, which have driven up the cost.

The mall and hotel complex is the U.S. military’s largest single facility project in the world. Air Force officials estimate the project will come in under the $182 million approved for its construction, but a General Accountability Office report estimates it will exceed $200 million.

Translator Marcus Kloeckner contributed to this report.


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