Barn builder defends work during trialA Mount Vernon contractor took the stand Thursday at Davison County Courthouse to defend his company’s work on a Mitchell man’s barn in 2008.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
A Mount Vernon contractor took the stand Thursday at Davison County Courthouse to defend his company’s work on a Mitchell man’s barn in 2008.
Doug Altman, of Mitchell, filed a lawsuit against contractor Ryan Baker, of Mount Vernon, claiming improper construction of a pole barn he purchased has left him unable to use the building for his intended purpose — for storage of vehicles and farm equipment, as well as space for a workshop and office.
Altman is the owner of Doug’s Auto Sales in Mitchell. He testified Wednesday he had plans to possibly run his car dealership out of the barn in the future.
Baker has been in the contracting business since 1997, and started his own construction company, Baker Construction, in 1999. He constructed a pole barn on Altman’s property about three miles west of Mitchell from December 2007 through January 2008.
Altman said Wednesday he is seeking $28,000 to $30,000 in damages — about $1,000 for each month he has been unable to use the barn for his desired purpose.
Altman is represented by attorney Michael Luce, of Sioux Falls, and Baker is represented by attorney Stephen Landon, also of Sioux Falls.
The case is being heard by Judge Cheryl Gering, of Yankton.
Baker re-took the stand Thursday after beginning his testimony on Wednesday.
During Luce’s examination, Baker said he made a few changes to the initial engineering plans he was given before construction began. He said the majority of these changes were done because of additional overhead and walkthrough doors Altman requested shortly before construction.
He said other changes to the original plans were made for safety reasons, to ease the construction process and to make the building stronger.
Baker said he discussed at least some of the changes with Altman during construction.
Luce entered several photos into evidence Thursday showing snow drifting between the seams of the steel panels that make up the walls of the structure.
Baker said Altman’s barn, and others like it, are not meant to be completely sealed from the weather, and anyone with the type of barn Altman bought shouldn’t expect it to be. Baker said Altman had never told him he wanted the pole barn to be completely sealed from the weather, or that he made any claim it would be.
He went on to say he suggested Altman use a spray foam insulation to seal any gaps, which would have solved the problem and made the building 100 percent airtight. He added he had not had any further conversation about spray foam insulation with Altman after suggesting it.
Baker stated several times in his testimony Thursday that he did nothing wrong in the construction of Altman’s pole barn and remained proud of the work he and his employees had done.
A specific dispute between Altman and Baker took place in July 2008. At that time, Altman complained to Baker about noise created by rattling steel panels on the structure, and claimed the structure’s support poles were settling into the ground.
Baker alleged Altman’s measurements of the support poles showed they had settled about three-eighths of an inch, which Baker said was not a problem.
“I thought that was very good,” Baker said.
Baker said he repaired the structure to prevent the noise caused by rattling panels after Altman’s complaint.
Following Baker’s testimony, Luce called registered professional engineer Michael Ulrich, of Sioux Falls, to testify.
Ulrich inspected Altman’s barn after Altman approached him with his various concerns about the building. He filed a report on his inspection in 2009.
He said Altman’s barn should have been built with the expectation that it would be sealed from the weather, barring extremely severe weather conditions.
He openly disagreed with Baker’s claim that pole barns are normally not entirely airtight. Ulrich said numerous steel panels in Altman’s barn had not been correctly overlapped, allowing rain and snow inside.
Ulrich also claimed changes Baker made to the initial plans, which included removing several wall knee bracers from the structure due to the location of doors and windows, had made the building unstable.
“You have a building that will last about five years instead of 40 years,” Ulrich said. “It’s pulling apart and becoming dangerous.”
In his report, he estimated it would cost $78,000 to rebuild the barn properly.
“There is absolutely no way to fix this building without tearing it down and starting over,” Ulrich said.
During cross examination by Landon, it was revealed Ulrich’s report did not use the word “dangerous” when describing Altman’s barn.
Also testifying Thursday was Menards commercial contractor account service manager Michael Geist, of Alexandria, who assisted Altman in acquiring supplies and plans for the pole barn.
“Pole barns aren’t necessarily weather-tight unless they’re designed to be,” Geist said, adding he had no recollection of Altman ever requesting his barn be sealed from the weather.
Geist referred Altman to Baker, among other contractors, before construction began.
The trial is scheduled to conclude today.