Building A Museum On An Island, Challenges And Success

Phelps Construction Group recently completed the new Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island.

Phelps Construction Group, a full-service construction management firm based in Boonton, NJ, recently completed the new Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island. Located steps away from the national landmark for Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. (SOLEIF), the museum held its grand opening on May 16, 2019 following a dedication ceremony.

Statue of Liberty
Phelps Construction Group of Boonton, NJ completed the 26,000 square foot Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island.

“The act of building a museum on an island presents a number of challenges that you don’t necessarily have to consider when you’re building on mainland, and that’s why we were thrilled to have the opportunity to work with our trusted friends at Phelps Construction throughout this process,” said Stephen Briganti, President and CEO of SOLEIF. “We’re all so pleased with the final result and know the millions of visitors who visit Liberty Island each year will be, too.”

The 26,000 square foot building provides the estimated 4.3 million annual visitors the opportunity to learn about the Statue of Liberty’s history, influence, and legacy through three gallery spaces. The poured in place concrete super structure sits above the 500-year flood level. It also includes the Statue of Liberty’s original torch surrounded by frameless glass curtainwalls. The multi-faceted three-dimensional structural steel roof system is clad with an expansive green roof featuring native vegetation and offering panoramic views of New York City.

Statue of Liberty
The original torch from the statue’s pedestal was moved in November 2018 into the new museum.

Constructing the museum on Liberty Island did not come without its challenges, the biggest being that the island had no access for the materials needed for construction. Additionally, there was no reliable information on what lay below ground and some points of the building are located within 10 feet from the NY harbor. It was required that the project could not interfere in any way with the current visitor experience.

These challenges were overcome by building a temporary dock on Liberty Island within the site which could be adjusted for the varying tides. Everything ranging from loads of lumber to concrete trucks were barged from a nearby facility in Jersey City. The firm spent months on the island prior to groundbreaking doing underground investigative work so that the project could move forward smoothly once construction began. Despite these challenges, the project has an aggressive schedule and locked-in grand opening date. The efforts by Phelps Construction Group ensured the project was completed on time and within SOLEIF’s budget.

Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island includes an expansive green roof and offers panoramic views of New York City.

“Building the Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island has been one of the most challenging and rewarding projects we have ever been involved in,” said Douglas Phelps, President of Phelps Construction Group. “Constructing a museum on a relatively small island in the middle of New York harbor certainly had its difficulties, but they did not compare to honor of being chosen by the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation to build this museum for not only our country, but the entire world to enjoy and learn what liberty means to them.”

Phelps Construction Group previously worked with SOLEIF on the historic restoration and expansion of the Peopling of America Center on Ellis Island. The Peopling of American Center was completed early 2015.

When Superstorm Sandy hit the region on October 29, 2012, the Statue of Liberty itself was damaged, reopening on July 4, 2013.