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Lawsuit Claims Castle is Short on Steel

Monday, May 16, 2016

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Designed as a residence that could withstand a hit from an F5 tornado, earthquake, bomb blast and remain standing for 2,000 years, Chateau Pensmore’s fate in Highlandsville, MO, is left uncertain.

The owner of one of the largest homes in America now wants to tear down the all-concrete home and rebuild it after discovering the amount of reinforcing materials used in the project negate the fortress’ ultimate purpose of being a model for resilient hospitals, schools and homes.

According to various reports, Steven T. Huff, the owner of the 72,000-square-foot Pensmore mansion has filed a federal lawsuit against two contractors involved in the project, after a whistleblower came forward to say the amount of steel mixed into the concrete used for the massive dwelling was actually much less than specified.

Whistleblower Sparks Suit

The whistleblower’s revelation was corroborated by core testing, reports say, citing court documents.

“We did everything we could trying to prove it was untrue,” Gabriel Berg, a New York attorney for Huff, told the Kansas City Star.

“Now we need to rip it down and build it back up.”

Construction on the home was said to have been mostly halted in 2014 when the whistleblower first came forward.

Missing Material

The suit claims that the concrete contractors intentionally used less than half of the steel material said to be the key to the home’s extraordinary strength.

An alternative to rebar, the high-tensile wire called Helix is purported to make walls bend rather than break in high winds and explosive blasts, reports say. Helix was invented at the University of Michigan and developed for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Springfield News Leader reports, citing the lawsuit.

Helix product literature

The owner accuses contractors of using less of a material called Helix in the concrete mix. An alternative to rebar, the high-tensile wire is purported to make walls bend rather than break in high winds and explosive blasts, reports say.

Roughly 200,000 pounds of Helix was supposed to be used in the structure. The suit further claims the companies re-sold the Helix that they didn’t use in the building.

The suit also says the whistleblower claimed another additive that was supposed to be mixed into the concrete for strengthening was watered down or not used at all, KY3 reports.

Denial of Allegations

The companies named in the suit are Humboldt, KS-based Monarch Cement Co. and its subsidiary Springfield-based City Wide Construction Products Co.

They have denied the owner’s allegations. In a statement, attorney Michael E. Callahan told news outlets, “We find the plaintiff's allegations of an intentional scheme to short steel fibers to be without merit, and there is no evidence even suggesting there is a shortage.

"They will defend their hard-earned reputations against the plaintiff's allegations all the way through trial, if necessary.”

Monarch has filed a subpoena asking for all of the documents relating to Pensmore to be turned over ahead of trial, which is scheduled for Nov. 14.

$63M in Damages

Huff is seeking $63 million in damages in the suit, reports say. However, Chateau Pensmore is valued at just under $6 million, the Springfield News Leader reports, citing the county assessor.

Berg told the news outlet there was no way to put a price tag on the five-story, 13-bedroom, 14-bath abode, noting “there’s nothing like it in the world.”

Huff had previously compared the home to the Roman Colosseum.


Tagged categories: Building materials; concrete; Disasters; Ethics; Good Technical Practice; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; North America; Raw materials; Residential Construction; Steel

Comment from Mark Anater, (5/16/2016, 8:50 AM)

I don't know which is more outrageous: the alleged fraud of the contractors, or the existence of a 73,000 square foot house.

Comment from Andrew Piedl, (5/16/2016, 10:25 AM)

Or the fact that no one verified this during construction.

Comment from Colin Broomfield, (5/17/2016, 9:31 AM)

To Mark..... The White House in USA is 100,000 square feet....and is residential Buck house in London is 800,000 square feet.....and is also residential, and it withstood the Blitz quite well....trustworthy architects and builders I'd say.....the owner deserves to be compensated for being deceived.

Comment from Mark Anater, (5/18/2016, 8:34 AM)

The White House and Buckingham Palace are both residences and government buildings, so they don't count. The owner of this house is entitled to spend his money as he pleases, and he deserves compensation if he was defrauded. While experimenting with more resilient construction techniques is a worthy goal, a private residence this size is totally outrageous, a white elephant that few people, if any, will want to live in and keep up. The same goal could have been accomplished with a much smaller house, or with a public building like a museum.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (5/18/2016, 11:36 AM)

Mark is right that there are two issues here. I won't comment on the need for 72k sq. ft. of house other than to say it may make a decent test-bed for the purpose without putting the public at risk. The construction, on the other hand, is something else. I understand where the re-enforcement design is coming from...we have several "dome" homes locally using synthetic filament re-enforcement that were designed to take what a tornado (though not an F5) or hurricane could dish out. If the contractor decided to short the re-enforcement (in a "what? It's still standing and the guy will never know" type of move) then I certainly hope the judgement is in the owner's favor (at least to rebuild it properly and provide compensation for the delay). It's unfortunate that on something of this scale, that there wasn't better oversight (i.e. inspection, testing and such), but I guess it is now in the hands of the court to decide.

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