OGDEN — The lawsuit is over.
Bennett Thurgood and his family have moved back into their Shadow Valley home atop a steep ridge.
Fifteen new support piers have been installed beneath the house and plans are afoot to replace the old retaining wall that was supposed to have stabilized the ridge to the rear, hold it steady.
Still, it’s been an ordeal, watching the retention wall crumble, contending with the potential loss of the custom, high-end home, wrangling in court with contractors to determine where things went wrong, who’s at fault. Even now, Thurgood has mixed feelings.
“I think we’ll feel a lot better when the (new) retaining wall’s done,” he said, standing at the rear of the house, which overlooks adjacent South Ogden, boulders from the old support structure meant to keep the ridge in place scattered below. “This isn’t the solution we chose, but we’re going to make it work.”
Construction of the $800,000 home finished in late 2014, when Thurgood, wife Kassie and the couple’s two young kids moved in. Even before that, though, they had noticed cracks in the basement floors, an indicator of things to come. After moving in, more cracks appeared in the floors and walls, indicating a sinking foundation and movement of soil down below. Ultimately the retaining wall on the ridge to the rear of the house, consisting of boulders, began to fall.
The deterioration worsened and the Thurgoods sued in 2nd District Court in Ogden in September 2015, less than nine months after moving in. They asked for damages from the contractors involved, charging that their negligence in designing and building the home led to the problems.
Meantime, they hired contractors to install 27 piers to short up the house, before the 15 placed earlier this year. The piers extend to bedrock up to 77 feet down in the ground, giving the foundation of the home a solid support to rest on.
Jared Johnson, building services manager for the city of Ogden, said things never got so bad that officials had to condemn the house, declare it uninhabitable. “We never got to the point that we deemed it a dangerous building,” he said.
But the stress of the situation mounted, the cracks kept creeping, jitters about the stability of the home persisted and the family ultimately moved to a rental in October 2016.
Who’s to blame?
The lawsuit generated denials from the contractors and went on and on in court. Lawyers filed papers and more papers, but ultimately the sides settled in April. The case was dismissed in May, with no one admitting fault.
“Really all I can say, it was settled in April,” Thurgood said.
Asked who’s to blame and his thoughts on settlement terms, whether they’re fair, he demurred. He has his ideas — “We know exactly what happened” — but kept them to himself.
“I guess we’re anxious to move on,” Thurgood said.
Dave Andre of Layton-based Andrescapes likewise kept mum. Andrescapes oversaw construction of the original retaining wall, according to Thurgood.
Mike Schultz of Roy-based Castle Creek Homes, the homebuilder, wouldn’t delve into settlement terms, but he defended the firm’s role in the project.
“We feel that the work that we did on the house held up and wasn’t the cause of the settling,” said Schultz. The retaining wall “fell down, the wall moved. We didn’t build the wall. In my opinion, the wall started to move. When the wall started to move, the house started to settle.”
Whatever the earlier issues, the fix now contemplated should do the trick, Johnson and Thurgood say.
“It’s over-engineered, if anything,” Thurgood said.
Plans call for installation of geogrid, a netting, of sorts, beneath the soil around the steep slope behind the house to help prevent movement of the dirt. What’s more, the retaining wall holding the slope in place will be made of interlocking units to keep it from moving and crumbling, not just boulders stacked on more boulders.
Thurgood had his own engineer review the plans, while city planners, just to make sure, had another engineer take a look at the proposed remedy before approving it.
“It’ll stabilize that soil,” Johnson said. “It’ll take care of the house.”
The work won’t come cheap, $300,000 to $500,000, and the Thurgoods will have to take out a loan for the project, which could be completed within two months. But the home’s sinking foundation has been raised and the cracks inside the structure have been repaired, which allowed the Thurgoods to move back in earlier this month.
“I think it’s pretty much stopped for now,” Kassie Thurgood said, alluding to soil movement. “We haven’t seen anymore this summer.”
Whatever the case, after the trauma of seeing their dream home nearly crumble and a bitterly contested court fight, it’s not like things for the Thurgoods immediately return to normal.
“It’s different,” Bennett Thurgood said, describing the feeling of being back in the home. “We never thought we’d come back.”
“It’s weird,” said his wife.