The Statue of Liberty is seen in New York harbor....

The Statue of Liberty is seen in New York harbor. (June 2, 2009) Credit: AP

When the Statue of Liberty reopens in late 2012 after about a year of upgrades and reconstruction, it will accommodate more people and enhance their safety, national park officials said Thursday.

"This is to actually upgrade for life and safety concerns and also to provide increased access to the monument," said Dave Luchsinger, superintendent of the statue and nearby Ellis Island.

Because of safety restrictions, about 86 percent of visitors to Liberty Island don't get into the statue, its pedestal or Fort Wood upon which they sit, he said.

Lady Liberty will close for about a year beginning Oct. 29 as contractors begin a $27.25 million renovation project that will refurbish two elevators, add a new wheelchair lift and carry out fire-safety renovations aimed at making the national monument a better place for visitors.

But while the 151-foot tall statue, its 154-foot pedestal and base, as well as related museum, will be closed during the project, officials were eager to stress that Liberty Island and Ellis Island will remain open.

Since the statue is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its dedication on Oct. 28, officials plan to start work the next day. Closing the statue and pedestal made sense to tourists who visited the monument yesterday.

"We want to make sure that our grandchildren get to see this national symbol of freedom and liberty," said Rick Boyce, 56, of Mexico, Mo.

Located on 14.7 acres, the Statue of Liberty was a gift to the United States from France and was designed by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi.

A major part of the renovation will involve the removal and replacement of an emergency elevator that runs from the base of the statue to its crown.

Tourists who are able to ascend to the crown do so by climbing a double helix staircase in the center of the statue and don't use the elevator, said Janet Ahearn a National Park Service spokeswoman.

Only about 214 visitors are allowed to ascend the staircase daily, she said. About 3.5 million tourists visit the island each year.

The wheelchair lift is being added to allow visitors to look inside the statue from level 6. An elevator in the pedestal will be refurbished, and one of two pedestal stairwells will be enclosed and air-conditioned for fire safety, Luchsinger said.

With Maria Alvarez

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