Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News

Artist's rendering of the new Hawaii Children's Discovery Center
Photos by Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin

From the ashes,
for the kids

Work begins next month
to turn an old Kakaako incinerator
into a place for children

By Jerry Tune

An old incinerator in Kakaako will be transformed into a center for children to learn through touching, poking, feeling and interacting with the exhibits.

Construction starts next month on the $14 million Hawaii Children's Discovery Center at the former Kewalo incinerator, with the facility scheduled to open a year later.

"The child is the hero or heroine (at the Hawaii discovery center) and they are totally in charge of the experience they have," says Loretta Luke Yajima, center president and chief executive officer.

Yajima talks about the new exhibits in a general way, but prefers to hold back the details until closer to the opening.

The old Kakaako incinerator, now vacant.

The center will have five areas, or galleries. A "Welcome Court" will set the stage for touching and interaction. "Fantastic You" will allow the child to make discoveries about the human body. "Your Town" shows the child the different parts of the community, such as the fire station, supermarket and post office. "Hawaiian Rainbows" deals with Hawaii's ethnic and cultural heritages. "Your Rainbow World" allows for children to experience people in other nations.

New technology such as computers and telecommunications will be part of the center, and Yajima also wants to get ideas from children and local businesses.

"We aren't going to have any signs under the exhibits saying this is what you will experience," says Yajima. "Children experience things differently. All have a different level of discovery. We want to demonstrate that museums are to enjoy, not just for teaching. We want to inspire the audience to learn and discover."

She wants the children to be so turned on by their interactive experience that they return to their parents and grandparents and inspire them to visit.

Yajima already knows that will happen. From 1990 to 1994, the first Hawaii children's discovery center was located in 5,000 square feet at the Dole Cannery.

In those four years, about 250,000 visitors came, including senior citizens.

"The seniors loved creating a wall of bubbles, and one man found fun by poking the bubbles with his cane," she said. "We want to demonstrate that learning is life long. Our museum is for the young at heart."

The interior will feature exhibits where children will learn by "touching, poking, feeling and interacting."

There are about 400 youth museums and discovery centers in the United States. The oldest, in Brooklyn, N.Y., is about 100 years old. The largest, in Indianapolis, is 300,000 square feet.

Construction of the local facility will begin Aug. 14 by Summit Construction Inc. The 55,000 square feet of state land, next to the Kakaako waterfront park, is leased from the Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA) for 40 years at $1 a year.

The old Kewalo incinerator was built in 1945 and closed in 1977 because it couldn't meet state air quality standards. To prepare the incinerator for construction of the discovery center, the HCDA spent $2 million gutting the incinerator, removing lead and asbestos, oil tanks and furnaces and stabilizing the structure according to the building code. New construction will add 20,000 square feet to the existing 17,000-square-foot facility.

About $10 million has been raised for the center, mostly corporate donations. The 1994 Legislature provided $4 million.

More money is needed for the exhibits. Yajima would like them to be prepared and the building constructed during the same 12-month period starting in August.

To get more than $3 million in additional money, Yajima will start a public fund-raising drive in late September or early October.

"We need the money for the center, exhibits, start-up costs and an endowment fund for operational costs," says Yajima. The endowment will enable admission costs to be kept low, she said.

At the Dole Cannery, admission costs were $5 for adults, $3 for children and $2 for children who came in groups - for example, on tours from schools. There also was a $45 annual family membership pass for unlimited visits.

The new discovery center, seven times larger than the Dole facility, most likely will have about the same prices, says Yajima.

The center has a "Dream Builder membership" of $45 that carries through the opening of the new museum. That can be renewed for annual membership at a discounted rate, she says.

The new discovery center will need a staff of 12 people and will use about 200 volunteers who will work at least four hours a week. "We only have a half-time secretary now," says Yajima, a former teacher. "Everyone else is a volunteer."

Robert J. Pfeiffer, former chairman at Alexander & Baldwin Inc., heads the capital committee for the new facility. Lynne Waihee is the center's honorary chair.

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