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Mansion takes shape in Christian County

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To many locals, it’s the mysterious, towering mansion looming in the Ozarks hills.

At 72,000 square feet on 500 acres just outside of Highlandville on U.S. Highway 65, the home known as Chateau Pensmore is largely inaccessible to most of the public save for its sizeable Google Earth coordinates.

Highlandville Mayor Clint Ellingsworth said the development has sparked community interest and plenty of rumors fit for its monstrous size.

“There have been a few questions about, ‘What are they building over there?’ One gentleman was thinking it might be a fortress of some kind for some kind of illegal activity, paramilitary groups and that sort of thing,” Ellingsworth said. “I kind of assured him that I didn’t think that was what it was.”

Todd Wiesehan, administrator for Christian County Planning and Zoning, said the driving force behind the residential giant, which measures 28 times the size of the average Christian County home with a garage nearly the size of a basketball court, is something much less sinister.

“I think energy efficiency is their No. 1 priority,” said Wiesehan, who was invited to view the property in person. “The owner of the property also (owned) a company where they’re developing and experimenting with the construction principles they’re using with this in terms of the walls and so forth for controlling heat loss and gain.”

Chateau Pensmore, previously referred to as Overwatch Manor, is owned by Steven T. Huff Family LLC, which purchased the property in September 2007, according to the Christian County assessor’s office. The permit shows the company made the building proposal in March 2008, shortly before building inspections went into effect in Christian County, Wiesehan said. Excavation work began in 2009, and the walls were erected in late 2009, according to www.pensmore.com, a Web site dedicated to the chateau’s progress and mission.

Owner Steven Huff is the founder of Austin, Texas-based Overwatch Systems Ltd., which develops and provides “geospatial analysis and custom intelligence solutions to the Department of Defense, national agencies and civilian organizations,” according to www.overwatch.com.

Huff’s brother, Joe Huff, of Ozark, serves as project manager for Pensmore. The owners declined to be interviewed for this story.

Wiesehan said as impressive as the massive property is from a distance, it doesn’t compare to witnessing it up close.

“From the road, it’s a pretty big house,” he said. “Then you get there in person, and it’s like, ‘Oh, my God.’”

Christian County Assessor David Stokely said the four parcels of land that make up the Pensmore estate are currently classified as agricultural land and will remain at agricultural value until the structure reaches a certain point of completion.

“Right now, it’s on our radar screen and it’s on the schedule to get back down there and revisit it,” Stokely said. “It will certainly change from agriculture to residential, and the value will change dramatically at that point.”

Pensmore is permitted as a single-family residence, which Wiesehan said he believes will be used as a Huff family getaway and as a model for energy efficiency and the Huffs’ patent-pending technology.

“I think it will probably be more of a vacation retreat for their family, and I don’t doubt that they may bring guests along to show them what they’ve been able to accomplish with this technology,” Wiesehan said, noting that the manor would allow the Huffs to gather energy-efficiency data for commercial applications. “I think at the end of the day the structure is, to some degree, an experiment. The square footage is comparable to a commercial building.”

Pensmore also has collected attention for its high-endurance structural shell, built with a super-insulating, poured-in-place concrete system called TransForm, according to Pensmore’s Web site. Combined with conventional rebar and spiraled steel fiber, the concrete walls are capable of withstanding an EF-5 tornado, the likes of which hit Joplin last month.

“Part of the energy-efficiency aspect does include some pretty thick walls, which is a byproduct of that. It’s fairly sturdy and disaster proof, both for national disasters and probably impact-resistant,” Wiesehan added.

The Web site indicates the project’s mission is creating “a modern version of the Jeffersonian ideal of the self-sufficient sustainable estate,” and it notes five features:
  • near net-zero energy consumption;
  • resistance to tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, fire, flood and insect damage;
  • low maintenance requirements;
  • durability measured in centuries, not years; and
  • applications from small residential structures to commercial buildings.
At least one Springfield company, Killian Construction, was hired for subcontract work. Killian crews built a bridge over Woods Fork Creek, leading up to the home site.

Wiesehan said although Pensmore is not a tourist facility, he hopes the property will continue to draw interest to Christian County.

“If their development of this technology goes well, we would hope that maybe if they consider placing any part of that business somewhere other than its current location, they would consider being here in Christian County. We would welcome that with open arms,” Wiesehan said. “I think there’s a lot of potential, but we probably won’t see the benefits of that for a while.”[[In-content Ad]]

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