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Ahead Of Exit, SABIC Donates To Berkshire Schools

A company that is slated to close its Pittsfield facilities is giving $90,000 worth of supplies to Berkshire County schools for math and science efforts. Science teachers from every public high school in Berkshire County received a check from SABIC Wednesday of at least $1,000. Headquartered in Saudi Arabia, the company manufactures chemicals, commodity and high-performance plastics and metals. Brenda Petell is the volunteer board vice president for SABIC’s Pittsfield locations.

“The SABIC volunteer board really felt strongly that we wanted to do something that was STEM-related, but that had a broader reach,” Petell said. “It’s hard to give a gift to one place and then it’s just a small population of people that get to benefit from it. We thought the way we chose to give this gift, it impacts the greater community.”

School science department chair Scott Eldridge says the $6,500 Pittsfield High received will help 12 teachers buy equipment.

“There is some physics equipment – high-speed laser gates and things like that for experiments,” Eldridge explained. “There are any number of chemistry devices. We think about pH – we think people putting pieces of paper in a beaker – that’s not how we do it today. A lot of the equipment today communicates via Bluetooth with a base unit. So you put a probe in and your base unit collects the data. That’s the kind of equipment we’re looking for and this will really bring us a long way toward achieving that.”

Eldridge says equipment purchases, often limited, are typically supported by grants or by sacrificing something else in the school budget. Petell told the teachers SABIC’s grant amounts were based on student populations at the dozen or so schools.

“It can be used at Fisher Science Education for anything you deem necessary for your classroom,” Petell said. “We thought this was the best way to let you choose what you needed rather than us purchasing something and maybe some of you would use it and maybe some of you would not."

SABIC also bought more than 300 graphing calculators required for MCAS testing for math teachers to take back to their classrooms.

The offering comes with a caveat, though. Last year SABIC, which employs about 300 people in Pittsfield, announced its innovative plastics plant would close in the middle of 2016 followed by its polymer processing development center in 2017. The plastics plant is closing as part of the creation of a regional headquarters in Houston. The polymer center is moving to a Northeast innovation and technology hub in Selkirk, NY. Van Shields is the executive director of the Berkshire Museum, where SABIC delivered the grants. Shields acknowledged the awkwardness of the celebratory moment with the company leaving Pittsfield, but highlighted what he says has been SABIC’s positive influence on the community.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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