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Desert domes in Casa Grande remain empty shells

CASA GRANDE – A little over 27 years ago, ground was broken for an electronics assembly plant on Thornton Road near Interstate 8, at a site now referred as “the Domes.” About 75 people attended the event that included a preview of a Thermoshell dome, champagne and a buffet lunch. A total of four dome-like structures were built. One of them looks like a classic flying saucer.

“I am happy but I am scared,” Patricia Zebb, owner of InnerConn Technology Inc., told the gathering in July 1982. “There is still a lot of work to do. I’ll be glad when I see the first board come off the plating line.” That circuit board never was produced.

Zebb planned to move her company from Mountain View, Calif., to the new Casa Grande site, which was to become the company headquarters. Her site in California would become a branch plant, according to her plans.

An office was used for a while in one of the domes but the plant never opened. Long abandoned, the site was acquired by new owners in 2006.

The 5-acre plot is about half a mile from Interstate 8. At one point the Domes property was fenced but that has fallen into disrepair with vandalism.

Today Realtor Elizabeth Drew has the listing for the Domes. The asking price for the 5 acres and the four structures with more than 20,300 square feet is $750,000. The Domes are owned by Daniel and Karon Peer of Casa Grande. They operate Simplicity Communications Inc.

Today the ceilings of several domes are falling in and could be dangerous, according to Karon. She said vandals and trespassers have caused problems. Even the “no trespassing” signs are covered with spray paint.

“We would like to sell it. We do not want anyone on the property and trespassing charges will be filed,” Peer said.

The owners erected a fence and put a cable across the entrance, both of which have been heavily damaged, she said.

In one incident, Peer heard that a woman parked at the Domes and let her kids crawl through the fence while she sat in a car. Peer does not want anyone to get hurt on the property.

Last year the owners stored a pickup truck and a car in one of the buildings. Windows were broken out on both vehicles. The following week both vehicles and other items were stolen. The loss was about $3,000 plus the vehicles, Peer said.

In 2006 shortly after they bought the property, Pinal County demanded the couple clean it up quickly.

The Domes had been an illegal dump site for years, Peer said. They did what the county wanted and they were not fined.

“It has not been a pleasant experience owning the Domes,” she added.

“People are not authorized to be there. We own it and people should ask permission, and my husband is willing to consider requests,” Peer said.

For example, a couple of gatherings of a local church were held there in the spring. There was a barbecue and “it worked out really nice,” she said.

Back in 1982, InnerConn wanted to make circuit boards used in all types of equipment ranging from quartz watches to large computers, Zebb said.

The original site had 135 acres and the plant would have used 10 acres. The shells or domes were constructed by pouring three inches of polyurethane followed by three inches of concrete against a balloon inside, held up by a steel skeleton.

At the time each dome cost about $150,000 and construction took about six weeks for each. The domes were constructed for insulation efficiency and lower costs and construction time.

InnerConn Technologies defaulted on a loan from Union Bank of California in 1983. The bank became owner of the InnerConn property in California and later the harmful chemical trichloroethylene was discovered in groundwater beneath that site. A cleanup started in 1989.

Over the years tales of space invaders and ghosts attracted people from across the United States. The Domes is mentioned on many Web sites. In addition, it became a favorite hang-out and party site for young people.

In 1982, the area around the Domes was pretty remote. Now there are signs of growth such as the nearby Wal-Mart Distribution Center, about two miles away.

In the last three years the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office lists a total of 18 calls for service by deputies to the Domes ranging from abandoned cars to trespassing to criminal damage.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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