The historic Koehnen Building in downtown Hilo will soon open its doors for the grand reopening of the Mokupapapa Discovery Center.
The Mokupapapa Discovery Center left its previous location at 308 Kamehameha Ave. last year, where it functioned for 10 years as an educational and outreach venue for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
The monument is the single largest conservation area in America, and one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. It encompasses 139,797 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, an area larger than all the country’s national parks combined.
Its coral reefs are home to more than 7,000 marine species, one quarter of which are found only in the Hawaiian Archipelago.
Andy Collins, PMNM education coordinator, was finishing up some last-minute construction at the 76 Kamehameha Ave. location last week before expressing his excitement for the center’s new home.
“This area is five times the size of our previous location,” he said.
Some new additions include a large mural painting symbolizing the Kumulipo, the ancient Hawaiian chant of creation, a 3,500 gallon saltwater tank that will house numerous Hawaiian coral reef fish, interactive iPad displays, and maps explaining the location and significance of the area.
There’s also a flatscreen television that will show Google Street View footage of the monument at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Currently that footage can be accessed online and users can take a virtual tour of Tern and East Islands at French Frigate Shoals, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, and Pearl and Hermes Atoll, all part of the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge within the monument.
On the second floor there’s a digital video globe, or Magic Planet, and a wave glider on display. Liquid Robotics donated the remotely-operated machine that’s used to carry equipment to collect data about everything from water quality and marine mammals to weather.
Collins said eventually the second floor will be used for educational demonstrations, conferences and a theater. The center is currently looking for donations and funding for those projects.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funds PMNM, and works to maintain the area as a national marine sanctuary.
“It’s intended to interpret that area and show why the area is special and why we’re managing it,” Collins said.
With minimal human interaction, Collins said its one of the last coral reef ecosystems left on Earth that shows nature in its pristine state.
“If we want to try to restore coral reefs, we have this baseline to study,” he said.
Previously the space was home to Koehnen’s Interiors, a business that was in operation for 83 years and has deep roots in Hilo. The building tells the story of Hilo native Fred Koehnen’s family history that dates back to the 1900’s.
Koehnen said the center is a “perfect fit” for the historic landmark.
“A great deal of sentimental angst concerned the future use of the building, but by very fortunate coincidence, the Mokupapapa Discovery Center was looking for expanded space for their operation…
“It is said that matches are made in Heaven; we look forward to this use as being such a match to complement a very venerable and historic building,” he said.
Collins said they maintained some of the historic elements of the facility, such as the wooden floors, an elegant Koa staircase that was built by the same person who constructed the staircases of the Titanic, and a large Koa cabinet. The outside of the building will remain intact, as well.
There will also be information available at the center about the history of the Koehnen Family and its business enterprise.
The grand opening is anticipated for March 15. The center’s hours of operation will be Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free to the public. For more information call 808-935-8358.
Email Megan Moseley at firstname.lastname@example.org.