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RiverQuarium looks for boost from school group attendance

Kids from a Doerun Pre-K class stroll in to the Flint RiverQuarium’s imagination theater Friday.

Kids from a Doerun Pre-K class stroll in to the Flint RiverQuarium’s imagination theater Friday.

ALBANY, Ga. -- At a time when it is perhaps needed more than ever, the Flint RiverQuarium has seen an uptick in school group attendance over the last several weeks.

Wendy Bellacomo, marketing manager for the RiverQuarium, said 2,000 children visited the downtown attraction this week and the week before.

"April was real busy," she said.

As many as three to five schools had groups visit the Pine Avenue facility on any given day this past week, Bellacomo said. They came from places such as Valdosta, Macon County, Early County, Perry and Mitchell and Madison counties.

"School groups are our bread and butter because we are an educational facility," Bellacomo said. "April is our primetime; it is after the CRCT and near the end of the school year."

Two days last week the RiverQuarium, which holds 500 children at a time, was sold out, Bellacomo said.

Aquarium classes in the facility's wet lab, tours, a joint field trip to the nearby Thronateeska Heritage Center, a film at the Imagination Theater -- or a combination of those -- are among the activities available to school groups, Bellacomo said.

Comparing last April's field trip numbers with this April's, the figures held steady at slightly less than 3,000 students for the month. However, there is still opportunity to see a difference from this year's activities.

"We are still in the middle of the field trip season, but we are confident that when it ends, our overall visitation numbers will be up," Bellacomo said. "This month we have welcomed public, private and parochial schools from Georgia, eastern Alabama and northern Florida. They have participated in a variety of activities here at the Flint RiverQuarium, including tours of the exhibits, educational movies in the Imagination Theater and hands-on instructor-led classes in our wet lab."

The visits come at a time when budgets are suffering in many school districts, hampering the ability to fund field trips. They also come at a time in which the RiverQuarium has seen its fair share of financial woes -- as seen from the elimination of its CEO position earlier this year.

"Undoubtedly, it has helped us (from a financial standpoint)," Bellacomo said. "The summer is more active with more families coming in, and fall and spring are our field trip seasons.

"Obviously (field trips) help in terms of revenue."

Exactly how much more money this year's activity makes for the RiverQuarium, Bellacomo said, depends on a number of factors that are still up in the air.

"It is very difficult to make that determination at this time," she said. "The spring field trip season is always one of the busiest times of the year, and we have many last-minute bookings and some cancellations as well. Title I schools continue to have field trip money cut, so that is on ongoing challenge for us. We are hoping to hold steady on revenue for the spring and transition into an active summer season with summer camps, out-of-town groups and a series of canoe trips."