Neighbors objecting to the proposed site of a building that would house the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management Agency met with an unyielding County Commission Mar. 9.

County officials have been moving forward with a plan to build a 9,000-square-foot, L-shaped building on a vacant lot behind the former jail, now the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center. In January, the county commissioners earmarked $1 million from existing county accounts for the Sheriff’s Office portion of the building, which is estimated to be 6,000 square feet. The 3,200-square-foot EMA portion of the building would be funded by a grant, received last year, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The plan has been touted by the county commissioners because it would replace the nearly-200-year-old Sheriff’s Office building without levying new tax money or going out to bond.

But neighbors, who caught wind of the project only after one noticed a surveyor working on a discontinued portion of Franklin Street adjacent to the jail, objected to the proposed site, saying they support the construction of a new sheriff’s office, but not the chosen location. The building, they say, would be out of scale and character with the neighborhood. The National Register of Historic Places names the residential neighborhood between High and Congress streets.

The group has also raised concerns that the new facility would generate more traffic, noise and light pollution — though according to county officials, there is no plan to change the hours or increase staff size in either department — and would diminish the values of abutting properties, from which the building would be visible.

On Tuesday, both sides claimed to represent the prevailing view in the community.

Neighborhood representatives Thierry Bonneville, Seth Benz and Karen Rak suggested three alternatives to building on the lot behind the jail. These included buying the 16,000-square-foot Wentworth Building on Waldo Avenue — currently for sale for $1.4 million — doing a “deep’ retrofit of the current Sheriff’s Office building, or constructing the new building on a 100-acre parcel of county-owned land located behind the city transfer station.

The commissioners outright rejected the last idea, saying their engineers had estimated the cost of getting basic infrastructure to the property would exceed $1.3 million. The property was eyed several years back in hopes of constructing an $18 million corrections and justice complex. The project was defeated in a referendum but the county bought the property anyway, a decision that several commissioners said, Tuesday, may have been a bad idea.

The Wentworth building option presented by the neighborhood group was not discussed on Tuesday. On retrofitting the current Sheriff’s Office, Bonneville said he believed it could be done less expensively than building a new building, and in such a way that would address the safety concerns in the old building. Bonneville asked if the Commissioners had solicited an estimate of how much it would cost to retrofit the building. The answer he got appeared to be that the commissioners felt the problems with the current offices were insurmountable.

Bonneville and company raised a number of other questions about the money the county had already invested in the 100-acre lot, the future of the re-entry center, the cost estimate for the new building and the wisdom of spending $1 million in tax money during a recession.

Several times Commissioner Donald Berry Sr. shouted down the neighborhood representatives, saying at various times, “I don’t know how to say it any more clearly, we are building on that site … We have made that decision, how can we get that across any better … There is no compromise solution here, we are building on the property.”

Bonneville asked the commissioners for a week to allow an architect to inspect the Sheriff’s Office building. If doing so would save $300,000 or $400,000, give the Sheriff’s Office a “21st-century” facility, and fit better with the existing neighborhood, he asked, why wouldn’t the commissioners do it?

Berry said he didn’t think taxpayers would buy into the retrofit idea. Berry referred to comments he made at a Feb. 25 neighborhood meeting. “We said this at the meeting, we will work to make the impact of that building acceptable,” he said. “We continue to be in that mode.”

Bonneville thanked the commissioners for their time but said he was “deeply saddened by the demeanor of Mr. Berry,” and accused the commissioners of thinking in the “old way.”

After the meeting, Bonneville said Berry’s comments were “dismissive, with no flexibility and still no answers to some of the basic questions we’re trying to ask.”

Here Bonneville referred to the common practice of retrofitting old buildings, often warehouses made of brick or concrete. Working with a wooden structure would be easier, he said. “I’m surprised they wouldn’t take a few days to consider it. It’s being done everywhere else, preserving, addressing what’s there while providing 21st-century office space,” he said.