HONOLULU (KHON2) — It’s the colorful building in Kakaako that’s been bringing smiles to the faces of children and their parents for the past 24 years. But what you may not know, the Hawaii Children’s Discovery Center was actually located somewhere else before it wound up here.

Liane Usher from Children’s Discovery Center said, “the children’s museum first started at Dole Cannery Square. We opened in 1989 and it was a really small storefront facility — and it was wildly popular, so we quickly outgrew that space.”

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The old space was only 5,000 square feet so the board started looking for a permanent home in Kakaako and settled on a site that literally rose from the ashes.

“This actually used to be the old city incinerator,” explained Usher. “So, we needed to raise about $12 million to renovate, build the exhibits for this location. We always like to say we started in a pineapple cannery and ended up in an old city incinerator.

Today, there are more than 38,000 square feet of fun to be had and the center has truly come full circle since the first visitors stepped inside 24 years ago.

“We definitely see the whole cycle,” Usher said. “We have employees, even volunteers, who say, ‘Oh, I used to come here when I was younger.’ So, it’s really nice that this had a special place in their heart that they would want to come back and give back.”

For Usher, striving to be better every day is something that’s still inside of her from her mother Loretta. Though Loretta passed away last November, she will always remain the driving force behind the discovery center.

“It means the world to me. My mom started as a teacher. She was a head start teacher and a group approached her to bring this children’s museum movement to Hawaii and that’s always been her passion. You know, empowering children, working with children, and so to be able to carry on that legacy is a dream come true.

Today, private businesses and donations support the facility, along with additional workshops and programs. And like any other business, the pandemic changed everything. But, Liane says the joy and the smiles have returned.

Its been a real challenge these last couple of years, but I have to say our staff, they’re truly talented and amazing. They pivoted really quickly. Our motto is to do more with less and I think that’s what saw us through. Spring break was wonderful. It was so wonderful to see all the families back. It was our first taste to see how things used to be and so we’re really hopeful for what’s to come.

Liane Usher from Children’s Discovery Center

Looking forward, she says the key to success – that will be the same as its always been.

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“You know, our board of directors, my mom, they really laid a wonderful foundation for us to just grow from and really I think our secret is we have such talented staff and they truly make the magic happen here,” said Usher. “The possibilities for us are really limitless. We’re only limited by how big we can dream and a place like this, anything is possible.”