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The St. Mary’s County 911 center in Leonardtown was built to withstand Category 1 hurricane-force winds, but its roof was not. On Tuesday, the county commissioners agreed to cover a shortfall in order to award a bid to replace the roof this fall to make it more resistant to stronger hurricanes.

Built in 2001, the emergency operations building itself was designed to withstand sustained winds of 74 to 95 mph, the range of a Category 1 hurricane.

However, the roof cannot take that much wind and staff have to leave the emergency services building when winds reach gale force at 50 mph sustained or more, budget documents say. St. Mary’s County government relies on its old underground bunker next to the circuit courthouse in downtown Leonardtown as a backup 911 call center.

With the new roof, the emergency services building will be designed to meet winds of up to 130 mph, or the “same as what Ocean City uses,” George Erichsen, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation, told the commissioners. Emergency services staff would be able to remain in the center with wind gusts of up to 114 mph — just above the Category 2 hurricane strength — before they would have to evacuate, he said.

The hardening project is not required, but “it’s just a need we’ve identified,” he said.

Pooling federal, state and local funds, St. Mary’s government had $446,776 budgeted for the hardening project, and local officials were told there wouldn’t be any extra money. Only one construction bid was received this month for $523,519. The commissioners agreed to move $102,929 from another county fund to meet the bid and add for contingencies for a total project of $549,705. The bid has not yet been awarded.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June to November with August through October the peak time for tropical systems, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The work to replace the roof of the St. Mary’s County 911 center is planned for October and November. Staff would be relocated to the third floor of the Potomac Building and the underground 911 center during the work, Erichsen said.

Commissioner Dan Morris (R) asked how much money it would take to strengthen the 911 center even more.

“It would require a retrofit of the entire facility,” Erichsen said. “We have what we have.” He said the chances of a Category 2 hurricane “aren’t necessarily that high” in this area.

On Oct. 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel, a Category 4 storm when it made landfall in North Carolina, brought extensive damage to St. Mary’s County, including a maximum wind gust of 112 mph at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.

Starting Sept. 18, 2003, the remnants of Hurricane Isabel struck the county with winds up to 69 mph and a tidal storm surge of 6 feet. That storm caused $84 million in damages in St. Mary’s.

On Aug. 27, 2011, Hurricane Irene, a Category 1 storm, brought up to 9 inches of rain to St. Mary’s and winds of up to 53 mph at Patuxent River NAS, downing thousands of trees across the county.

Hurricane Cristobal is currently in the Atlantic, but is not expected to make landfall on the Eastern Seaboard.

jbabcock@somdnews.com