It's been a year since the Statue of Liberty reopened after being overrun by Hurricane Sandy in fall 2012.
For Princeton-based Mills & Schnoering Architects LLC, that reopening date was the culmination of nearly five years of work on the historic 126-year-old structure.
The firm was tapped in 2008 to design renovations for the statue’s crown, which was closed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The project was completed within three months, and it wasn’t long before Mills & Schnoering was lining up a second assignment.
“We weren’t sure where or when it was going to happen, but it happened right on the first heels of that project,” said Michael Mills, a partner with Mills & Schnoering.
This one involved all of the statue’s visitor facilities, making them more code-compliant and making it more comfortable for its occupants. That meant everything from upgrades to staircases and new elevators to setting up a fire suppression system and air conditioning.
But the challenge was to do it without disrupting the history inherent in the statue, Mills said.
For instance, the work was done around the girders left by famed architect Gustave Eiffel, who designed the support system for the structure. That meant designers “had to figure out how to avoid them — and actually display them as you people walk up our new stairs,” Mills said.
And they did it in a space that is 17 square feet at its narrowest and only 27 square feet at its widest.
“We did all the things one does in a modern structure that’s open to visitors,” Mills said. “And we did it in a way to avoid impacting the historic fabric.”
After three years of design and construction, the statue reopened in late October 2012 — just a day before Hurricane Sandy.
After work to restore the pavement, snack bar, electrical systems and other areas damaged by the storm, it reopened — again — last July 4.
Since then, the architects have had time to reflect on the project. And they’ve been recognized for their work: Last month, the New Jersey chapter of the American Institute of Architects presented Mills & Schnoering with a Merit Award in the Historic Preservation category.
“It was really a great experience for everybody,” Mills said. “It was a real honor to work on it, and everybody felt that way.”
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