New Orleans has faced HVAC-related disturbances this week with AC outages in numerous city buildings that have resulted in closings and relocations, according to a press conference held by Mayor LaToya Cantrell Tuesday. More than 12 major heating and cooling issues are impacting the city as a long stretch of high temperatures, with the heat index exceeding 115 degrees through July 4.
The Orleans Parish Civil District Court, which was forced to close due to water-pressure issues that affected AC units. Other buildings impacted include the New Orleans Public Library, the Milton H. Latter Memorial Library and the New Orleans Police Department headquarters, according to Nola.com.
In Tuesday’s press conference, Cantrell confirmed that officers were moved to other facilities as a result of “extreme heat levels in that building.” A city official said that portable cooling units had been installed for those that had to be on-site in the building, with others sent home to work remotely.
While Cantrell said that once technicians replaced gasket and motor parts in two units, air conditioning at the headquarters would be operational again in a day or two. The mayor noted that her department is working on HVAC repairs in multiple city buildings, as part of a $4 million budget adjustment in the first quarter of 2023.
But, the ongoing situation highlights challenges facing the municipality’s building maintenance operations.
Natesh Mohan, the city’s director of property management, told council members Tuesday that HVAC system issues surfaced around three weeks ago. Mohan attributed part of the problem to paperwork hassles. He and other council members agreed the challenges that led to the prolonged headquarter outage were “far from resolved,” with Mohan placing significant blame on a procurement process that requires approval from several city officials even in the case of an emergency.
"The fact that as a city we did not have a triage solution — that’s on us collectively," city council president JP Morrell told Nola.com. "Every summer is basically an ongoing emergency event."
Police stations in the 5th and 6th districts also reported outages this week. District B city council member Lesli Harris said she had heard reports of intermittent AC issues that the 6th district station has been grappling with for the past three years.
Mohan said emergency measures were also delayed due to payment issues. He told council members that while he had deployed 45 temporary AC units over the past month, his attempts to order another 45 were denied due to a supplier hold placed on the heels of outstanding invoices from other city departments.
Joe Threat, New Orleans’ chief administrative officer for infrastructure, added that the Department of Property Management had failed to develop new contracts, citing a 2021 inspector general report that found the department had improperly utilized an expedited contractor approval process for non-emergency situations.
"We just cannot continue to allow failure to pay and bureaucratic process to impede having air conditioning," Councilmember Joe Giarrusso said in the hearing, suggesting that the council file a motion to assemble a working group to address the procurement issues.
“From what we understand with the administration, they may have identified some problems, but no one seems to figure out how to fix it to get invoices paid more timely," said Helena Moreno, city council vice president.