Bricolage Academy on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

Bricolage Academy has delayed the start of in-person learning several days due to a heating, venting and cooling system issue — rooted in one air conditioning unit that cools several classrooms — district and school officials confirmed Friday. 

The school had been scheduled to reopen to students on Monday. It will now open on Thursday instead. 

“Unfortunately, our Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system is performing inconsistently and several classrooms have experienced outages,” Bricolage CEO Troave’ Profice wrote in an email to parents Thursday night. “We were informed this afternoon that while the required parts have been ordered, they will not arrive until early next week.”

The email did not elaborate on what the problem was. But Profice and a spokesperson for NOLA Public Schools clarified that the problem is not related to ventilation. The building is properly ventilated, they said. The problem is the air conditioning.

“There is not a ventilation issue,” NOLA Public Schools spokeswoman Dominique Ellis said in a Friday morning interview with The Lens. “An HVAC system does include ventilation parts … but none of that’s broken.”

Ellis said an air conditioning unit that cools one wing of the building, including several classrooms, isn’t working properly. Simply put, she said, “It’s too hot to have class.”

“The main concerns are around temperature regulation and not ventilation,” Profice explained in an email to The Lens.

NOLA Public Schools allowed pre-kindergarten through fourth grade students to return to campus this week amid improving COVID-19 health data — it was the first time students have been on campus since schools were shuttered six months ago. Schools were allowed to start this week and next, though this week’s start was also delayed due to the potential threat of Hurricane Sally

Young students have returned to classes at 12 district charter schools and more will begin next week. Older students will return in mid-October, if health data allows. 

Ventilation systems have come under scrutiny across the country as a factor in deciding whether students can return to classrooms amid the pandemic. COVID-19 disease is known to spread through the air and experts say improved ventilation, including filtering, can reduce the spread of the virus

Ten New York City schools had to delay the return of teachers due to ventilation issues. More than 1,400 schools there have had their ventilation systems inspected

John McDonogh High School, the building where Bricolage operates, underwent a $35 million renovation between 2014 and 2018. 

The majority of New Orleans charter schools operate in buildings owned by the Orleans Parish School Board. (A handful of charters own their own buildings). Charter schools are responsible for maintenance while the district assists with capital repairs. 

Bricolage students will continue virtual learning into next week. On Thursday, pre-kindergarten through second grade students who requested to return to school will go back to class. Third and fourth grade students will join the next day.

The back and forth decisions on in-person schooling have been tough on educators and families across the country, but Profice said the staff is still looking forward to their “first day” of school. 

“We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience,” Profice wrote, saying Bricolage staff members had been looking forward to students coming back on Monday. “Although delayed, we remain committed and hopeful that we will be able to return and continue to provide high quality learning experiences for all of our students.”

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...