Commercial equipment sits in front of Frederick Douglass High School on St. Claude Avenue, helping to dry out the school after Hurricane Ida in 2021 broke windows and caused water damage that was followed by a citywide blackout. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

Twenty-nine Orleans Parish School Board buildings received some damage from Hurricane Ida or the prolonged power outage caused in its wake, NOLA Public Schools district officials told board members at their monthly committee meeting on Tuesday.

The powerful category 4 storm roared ashore Aug. 29, tearing up houses and buildings throughout southeast Louisiana and initially leaving about 1 million electric customers without power. Many schools in the city and surrounding area have been closed since — as they assess for and remediate damage. City schools have been slowly opening over the last week. Some schools have reopened virtually, rather than in-person, due to damage and uncertain repair schedules.

Of the 29 buildings found to have damage, 20 need environmental clearance before students can return, Jeanie Decuers, the district’s executive director of capital improvement, told board members. Decuers said the central office got to work as soon as it was safe after the storm.

“Immediately following Hurricane Ida … we installed a one-megawatt generator at [L.B. Landry High School] as our alternative command center. We also installed a 500-gallon fuel tank so staff could stay fueled for field assessments,” she said. 

Central office employees and school staff have completed 91 damage assessments. Of the 29 damaged schools, 20 will require an environmental inspection before students can return.

Of the 20 needing environmental clearance, “As of Sept 16, four schools had been cleared and the majority of the rest are scheduled for this week,” she said.

Frederick Douglass HS took worst damage

The most severely damaged school was Frederick Douglass High School on St. Claude Avenue, which is run by the KIPP New Orleans Schools charter group. 

“There was an ongoing project to replace courtyard windows,” Deceurs explained. “The temporary closures on those windows failed during the storm.”

That led to water intrusion on several floors of the school and the prolonged power outage after a citywide blackout only complicated problems.

“How long will that school not be able to be in use?” board member John Brown asked.

“We are looking at an alternative site for the fall semester,” she said. “Potentially old Karr [High School], as well as looking at using the undamaged space in the Douglass facility.”

OPSB member Carlos Zervigon asked whether the state would allow schools to forgo the minimum required instructional minutes each year or make other allowances for students to attend school virtually.

“To see if there’s some flexibility there in allowing our schools to operate. I’ll be very interested to hear what you’re hearing from the state,” Zervigon said. 

“At this time, those minutes will need to be made up,” Lewis said, noting he’s keeping in close touch with other district superintendents.

In neighboring Jefferson Parish, the school board approved a new calendar on Monday, The Times-Picayune reported. That will push back the end of the school year for some students in order to make up those minutes.

Board advances disaster-related contracts

The board committee also forwarded two disaster related contracts to the full board, which will vote on them at a regular board meeting.

The committee approved a recommendation to increase its contract with Guarantee Restoration Services — which repairs buildings damaged by fire, water and other hazards — from $500,000 to $15 million in the wake of Hurricane Ida.

“While we have no concrete numbers we do realize there will be many sources paying for these costs. That could be FEMA, insurance, or other,” one finance staffer said.

The committee also sent a contract for CSRS, Inc. to manage disaster recovery grants to the full board. They amended the roughly $200,000 contract to allow for another $150,000 in spending. 

Board president Ethan Ashely said the hurricane caused some delays in the Superintendent search progress. The district cancelled its initial search firm request for qualifications and on Tuesday, the committee approved a new one.

“The only thing we’re changing is simply the timeline for this process,” he said.

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...