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Classmates Collaborate to Commemorate Lady Liberty

The third floor of Flint Hall at Syracuse University brought Doug Phelps ’81 and Frank Salerno ’81 together. Now, more than three decades later, they’re not only still friends but business partners who just completed an iconic project.  

Overhead photo of Liberty Island

The Statue of Liberty Museum creates a beautiful new destination for visitors to Liberty Island. Credit: Nils Walter, All Photographic Services.

Sometimes you meet one person and it changes the course of your life.

That certainly was the case for Doug Phelps ’81 and Frank Salerno ’81. The two met their first year at Syracuse University on the third floor of Flint Hall. Both economics majors in the College of Arts and Sciences and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs , they were roommates their senior year and members of the Economics Club.

Doug Phelps, Jeff Rainforth and Frank Salerno pose for a photo on the job site

Doug Phelps, Jeff Rainforth and Frank Salerno on site at the new Statue of Liberty Museum.

This friendship eventually led to the formation of Phelps Construction Group in 2007. Phelps founded the firm with Salerno and Jeff Rainforth ’97, a SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry graduate.

Phelps Construction has completed several large-scale projects including its most recent—the Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island, New York. The museum gives millions of visitors a new destination and a multisensory experience.

“It was a great honor to work on this project and I could not be happier or more proud of how it came out,” says Phelps, president of Phelps Construction.

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation selected Phelps Construction as the construction manager during the early stages of the project, and the construction group played a major role in design development, as well. The project broke ground in October 2016, and the 26,000-square-foot museum opened in May 2019. Working closely with the architecture firm FXCollaborative, the Phelps Group determined how to construct the museum most efficiently on the island.

“A project of this magnitude had not been built on Liberty Island since the Statue was erected in 1886,” says Rainforth.

They faced many challenges along the way, including barging all the materials out to the island, building a temporary pier, loading concrete trucks on a single barge and moving the original torch out of the Statue’s pedestal to its new home in the museum’s Inspiration Gallery.

The sustainable museum, which sits above sea level, is designed to withstand hurricane force winds, and features a green roof-scape and bird-safe glass exteriors.

Exterior of museum on Liberty Island

The 26,000-square-foot Statue of Liberty museum gives visitors a multisensory experience. Credit: Iwan Baan.

“Logistically, this project was a real challenge that our talented team made look easy,” says Rainforth.

“There was this feeling that we were all building something that was more important than anything we had ever worked on,” says Phelps. “The morale on the project was something I had never seen before.”

Lisa Maresca

This story was published on .

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