Honolulu unveils new Children's Center

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HONOLULU -- Honolulu's old city incinerator has been transformed.

After years of planning, construction, expansion and exhibit development, the facility has taken on a new life as the Hawaii Children's Discovery Center.

The 37,000-square-foot non-profit museum opened in December at Kakaako Waterfront Park, between Waikiki and downtown Honolulu.

The Children's Discovery Center Costing $12 million, it replaces the children's museum that operated at the Dole Cannery shopping center from 1990 to 1994.

However, it is seven times larger.

There are a gift shop at the entrance and five main exhibit areas on three levels, which provide a range of learning experiences for youngsters.

Visitors enter the Welcome Court, which has many displays from the old discovery center. Included are a puppet show and "Fantastic You," a human body parts exhibit, where kids walk through a huge stomach.

Your Town includes a bank, a diner, a theater, a gas station and a post office. Kids drive a pretend fire engine and can slide down the pole at the fire station. They practice interviews and do the news at the television station, one of the museum's many interactive video exhibits.

The reception area and most of the ground floor exhibits are in a new extension to the incinerator building. New construction added 20,000 square feet of space to the 17,000-square-foot incinerator.

Hawaiian Rainbows, on the second level in the old incinerator building, is about living in Hawaii. Here, kids can steer a ship, learn about Hawaii's fish or sit in a mock up of a plane complete with Aloha Airlines seats and, with the help of videos, experience flying to the neighbor islands,

Children also can watch themselves swim with fish on a video display.

The third level, Your Rainbow World, explores the world and the ethnic groups that make up the islands. House interiors featured are from Portugal, the Philippines, China, Korea, India, Japan and the U.S. mainland (complete with white picket fence). Kids can dress up in costumes, play ethnic games and even pretend to bake Portuguese bread.

Loretta Yajima, the center's president, hopes the museum will become popular with tourists as well as residents.

At its Dole Cannery location, the center's 2,500 visitors a month included a large percentage of tourists, she said. Although the exhibits are designed for toddlers and pre-teens, the earlier center, she said, "attracted all age groups, especially senior citizens."

"We say we are for the young and young at heart," she explained. However, the new location, at 111 Ohe St. in Kakaako Waterfront Park, is not well- known, even among residents.

Kakaako Waterfront Park, which opened several years ago, can be seen from Ala Moana Boulevard, before reaching Aloha Tower Marketplace.

It is part of the state's redevelopment of the Kakaako industrial district. Hawaii Children's Discovery Center's hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays; 9 a.m. to noon, Tuesdays through Fridays, and closed Mondays and holidays.

Admission is $8 for adults and $6.75 for those under age 17. The price is $75 for an annual family pass for two adults and all children under age 17.

Yajima said hours will be expanded through the year as more volunteers are trained. The center depends exclusively on volunteers and its membership. Currently, it has only one paid employee, a secretary.

The next step is to raise another $3 million as an endowment, to hire staff and for operating expenses. Planning for a new discovery center began before the Dole Cannery facility closed. The state leased the incinerator site to the center for $1 a year for 40 years.

Hawaii Children's Discovery Center
Phone: (808) 592-KIDS (5437).

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