‘Imiloa Center preps to begin phased reopening next month

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center remains closed but will begin a phased reopening in July.

‘Imiloa Astronomy Center will begin its phased reopening in July, nearly four months after the facility closed and canceled all programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the state is permitting museums to reopen this month, Executive Director Ka‘iu Kimura said, “With ‘Imiloa, we are going to extend our closure through the end of June in order to install all the proper safety equipment and train staff in new health and safety protocols so we are prepared to safely open.”

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As its first in-person event since March, ‘Imiloa will host a three-week, registration-only summer enrichment program for keiki called “Halau Lamaku” from July 13-31.

“We are following all federal, state, county (and) University of Hawaii guidelines as it relates to COVID-19 safety and health protocols,” said Kimura, adding that ‘Imiloa also will follow the trends of other science centers and museums in terms of best practices and other health and safety standards.

For the summer program, there will be five “pods,” each with nine keiki and one teacher, she explained. The groups will not co-mingle, but will be situated throughout the facility to maintain social distancing.

No specific date is set for ‘Imiloa to reopen to the general public, but the earliest would be August, Kimura said.

During the course of the closure, Kimura said ‘Imiloa has not had to lay off or furlough any employees, although work hours were reduced for some.

Most staff have worked remotely, although Kimura said facility crews remain on site, where they are deep-cleaning, painting, renovating the store and restaurant and doing other long-standing maintenance projects.

During this time, staff members have been developing an “‘Imiloa at Home” program, which is available on the center’s website.

“In light of the shutdown and having to cancel many of our programs, we wanted to make sure ‘Imiloa (remained) active, relevant and engaged with the community, so we wanted to offer free online educational fun and educational resources … ,” Kimura said. “We wanted to make sure we continued to support learning engagement at home through the ‘Imiloa at Home program.”

Staff also have been developing other types of programming, and in May offered the center’s first “virtual field trip,” she said. The education team also has been taking advantage of the time to write curriculum for future offerings.

‘Imiloa, however, is anticipating budgetary challenges as a result of the pandemic.

Five revenue streams — admissions, store sales, facility rentals, program fees and Sky Garden restaurant income — which Kimura said make up about 25% of ‘Imiloa’s budget — were immediately halted because of the COVID-19 closure.

But the largest share of ‘Imiloa’s budget — about 55% — comes from the state through the University of Hawaii at Hilo. The state of Hawaii is facing significant revenue losses related to the pandemic.

“We are already preparing for significant cuts to the university budget for the next fiscal year,” she said. ” … (We are) mentally preparing for that.”

However, Kimura said ‘Imiloa’s membership base has remained a steady source of revenue.

Many members have continued to renew their memberships, she said. Some also made additional donations.

And in terms of philanthropic support, which makes up about 20% of ‘Imiloa’s budget, Kimura said the center is speaking to those providing funding to assess the impact of the crisis on their donations.

Other funding sources also are being sought, she said.

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For more information about ‘Imiloa, visit imiloahawaii.org.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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