$10k to Norwich Public Schools from closing copper plant
By Matt Grahn Norwich Bulletin
Posted Sep 14, 2020, at 7:41 PM
NORWICH—When James Hodson, the plant manager for the Freeport MacMoRan copper processing plant in Norwich, read about the Norwich Public Schools Education Foundation (NPS Education Foundation) needing funds for picnic tables, he decided to help out.
“Many of our workers still have kids in the school system, and it meets an immediate need,” Hodson said.
On Monday night, Hodson presented to various Norwich Public Schools employees members of the Norwich Board of Education, and members of the NPS Education Foundation, a check for $10,000 to help them in their picnic table project.
Norwich Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow was surprised when she first learned of the donation.
“I had to read the email over a couple times before it really sunk in,” Stringfellow said during the ceremony at Samuel Huntington Elementary School.
According to Norwich Board of Education member Kevin Saythany, the district, through the NPS Education Foundation already raised $8,000 by Monday for their picnic tables. The project was started as a way to give kids district-wide the opportunity to spend time outside either during their lessons or for breaks. The district wants a total of 100 tables, or 10 for each school. At $200 each, the district has enough money for 90 tables.
Even though the people who donate enough money for a whole table can determine where they want their tables placed, Hodson said he believes the district will know how to best use the money, and won’t request which tables go where.
Though it has a history of community involvement, this donation is one of the last things Freeport-MacMoRan will do in Norwich. Hodson notified the Connecticut Department of Labor about the plant’s closure June 17.The city responded by offering plans to keep the factory in the city, but Freeport – MacMoRan said COVID-19 economic downturn impacted their business, and closing the Norwich plant would save them $40 million annually.
At a glance
Of the 10 new picnic tables that will eventually come to each of the Norwich Public Schools, eight will be standard 6 ft. tables, and two will be 8 ft., made for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.
“How do you argue that,” Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom said in June. “The ore itself, (Freeport-McMoRan) pays to ship it from Arizona to here, and then they ship it back for another process.”
With production winding down, Hodson said items from the factory, including tools, furniture, and even a company vehicle, was auctioned off between employees, raising $10,000. After reading about the Norwich schools’ dilemma, Hodson ran the idea of giving the money by his bosses.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this great idea to give this money to this foundation,’ and they immediately thought it was great,” Hodson said.
During the check-presenting ceremony, Hodson updated everyone how things are at the plant, as operations slow down, and more things are taken apart. Hodson also noted the workers were given a good severance package from Freeport-MacMoRan.
NPS Education Foundation spokesperson Mark Cook called the donation “a selfless act” on the part of the employees, and exemplifies “what this city is all about.”
“A lot of times, we dwell on the negatives, and we don’t celebrate the positives of this city,” Cook said. “This a big positive.”
Shuttered copper plant donates $10,000 to Norwich schools’ picnic table fundraiser
Published September 14. 2020 8:08PM
By Claire Bessette The Day
Norwich — As the Freeport-McMoRan copper plant on Wawecus Street prepared to close, employees asked plant manager James Hodson if they could buy their desks, some furnishings and office supplies as they prepared to leave jobs some have held for decades.
The Phoenix-based company readily agreed, since it wouldn’t want to ship the items across the country, Hodson said. Items were priced cheaply, and the auction sales yielded some $10,000.
Then after reading a news story that the Norwich Public Schools Education Foundation was seeking donations to buy picnic tables for outdoor classes, lunch and mask breaks, Hodson contacted the Phoenix headquarters again.
“I knew they would have no issue with it, because they’ve always given to a lot — Mohegan Park, United Way and a number of charitable things,” Hodson said. “It made so much sense.”
“I had to read the email over and over so many times before it sank in,” Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow said at a check presentation ceremony held outside the Samuel Huntington School Monday. “It is very overwhelming. We’re so grateful.”
The nonprofit education foundation launched a fund drive in August to raise $20,000 to buy 100 picnic tables, enough for 10 per school. Two handicapped accessible tables will be purchased for the Thomas Mahan and Uncas elementary schools.
Before Monday’s donation, the foundation had raised $7,857, foundation president and Board of Education member Kevin Saythany said.
“This brings us much closer to our goal,” he said.
The tables are being ordered from Amazon, and soon, the foundation will call for volunteers for a weekend assembly event.
“We saw an overwhelming response from the Norwich community,” past education foundation president Mark Cook said. “It was really heartening to see, but not surprising, because those of us who live and work here, we know what this city is all about. And we’re at our best when times are at their worst.”
Freeport McMoRan is mostly closed now, Hodson said, with just the disassembly of equipment and shuttering the plant left. Most of the 117 employees have been laid off and received severance packages from the company. He said many have found jobs and some are still looking.
Hodson said some Freeport employees have children in the Norwich school system and embraced the idea of making the donation for the picnic tables.
Stringfellow said the entire community has supported the project. People have been dropping off $200 donations to the school office saying they want to buy a picnic table in the memory of a favorite teacher or other school staff member. A local jeweler is donating engraved plaques for the dedicated tables.
“The generosity of this community and how they have just wrapped their arms around our children, it makes you fill up with tears,” Stringfellow said to Hodson Monday. “It makes you appreciate life and know that there are good, loving people in our community. And we are very, very grateful for your support.”