Major Safety Improvements Planned for Statue Of Liberty National Monument

NPS photo by P. Banks.

What happens when you try to apply modern fire and safety codes to a historic structure that was built long before such requirements were considered? When that structure is an international icon like the Statue of Liberty, the challenges are big ones indeed. Those needs are perhaps even more apparent in the post-9-1-1 era, and plans for the work are well underway. If you have any comments, the NPS would be glad to have them.

According to the NPS, the project will include alterations to the staircases in the pedestal, upgrades to the fire suppression system, changes to the HVAC system, two new means of exiting the monument, and a “fire break” between the statue itself and the pedestal.

“Life safety changes to the pedestal and base have been planned since the NPS announced that it would re-open the Statue in 2009,” said Mindi Rambo, spokeswoman for the National Park Service. “The process for approving changes to historic structures like Statue of Liberty National Monument is a detailed one that takes time, so we went ahead and made the statue as accessible as we could in 2009, while acknowledging at the time that more changes would need to be made starting in the fall of 2011.”

The NPS has released its "environmental assessment and assessment of effect on the proposed life safety changes at the Statue of Liberty, and is taking public comment on the documents through September 13th. This is the first of several steps that the park is required to take before making changes of this magnitude"

You can download the documents at this link; unless you're heavily into the details of "compliance-speak," you can skip the Appendices. If you're only casually interested in the project, here's a quick summary of the current plans, courtesy of the NPS:

The principal changes will be to the pedestal. Current fire code mandates that there be two separated means of egress so that, in the event one path out is compromised, a safe means of exiting the structure remains available.

At least one staircase also has to have a two-hour fire rating, meaning that visitors would have two hours to evacuate. In order to meet this code, at least one staircase has to be encapsulated and the interior space conditioned. The present staircases in the monument will not allow for this.

The proposed actions include the removal of and replacement of existing stairs and elevators as well as upgrades to the fire safety, ventilation, and lighting systems.

Some aspects of the proposed work aren't directly related to life and safety, but they'll likely be of even more interest to the day-to-day visitor, and it will save money in the long run to do all the work at one time:

"Additional improvements to the lighting system, the ventilation system, and existing restrooms on Level 1P are secondary to the life safety improvements, but are needed to improve visitor use and experience and enhance accessibility. The restrooms are currently minimally accessible and are used intensively, requiring periodic refurbishments to ensure continued visitor comfort."

Once these changes have been made, the park hopes to be able to increase visitation to the crown, but during the project there will be some inevitable interruptions for visitors.

“When the work begins, visitors will still be able to visit Liberty Island during construction,” said David Luchsinger, the park's superintendent. “The park will be providing increased ranger-led tours and other programs on the island as well. While we are anticipating that the monument itself will be closed during construction, it is still too early in the planning process to speculate on the degree or duration of such a closure.”

Want to comment on the proposal? After taking a look at the current plans, you can either submit your thoughts on-line at this link, or by U.S. Mail to: Park Superintendent at Statue of Liberty National Monument, National Park Service, Liberty Island, New York, NY 10004. The deadline for comments is September 13, 2010.