Every time the proposed county building that would house the Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management Agency comes to a public forum, the project shows more and more evidence of hasty planning.

The county commissioners are right to be proud of themselves for coming up with a fix for the sheriff’s woefully inadequate Congress Street offices. They figured out a way to build a new $1 million building without going out to bond or adding to the county’s operating budget. But like a parent bringing home a new pet that happens to be an elephant, commissioners’ celebration of the new plan has been premature.

Neighbors of the proposed building site were understandably miffed that they didn’t learn of the project until it was apparently a done deal. To their credit, they have tempered their protests with constructive criticism and carefully reasoned, if not always feasible, proposals for alternatives to the current plan.

The best of these — a gut renovation of the existing Sheriff’s Office building — was dismissed out of hand by the commissioners, who spoke of the nearly 200-year-old jailer’s house as though it could not be renovated at any price. When the neighbors asked if the commissioners had solicited estimates of the cost to do a modern renovation to the old building, they were blown off as though they couldn’t possibly understand how difficult that would be. This was, at best, impolite.

There may be good reasons why the current sheriff’s offices — located in a former jailer’s house on a residential street — could not be renovated to suit the needs of a 21st-century law enforcement agency. A two-story building may be less desirable than a single-story structure for modern law enforcement practices, though no one has said as much.

The square footage also may be inadequate, though a recent rendering distributed by the neighborhood group shows what the building would look like if the original 1851 jail building, currently used for evidence storage, were combined with the building in use by the Sheriff’s Office today, creating a much larger footprint than that of the house alone. In these renderings, the old jail — pictured with large-pane windows in the openings that today are covered by rusted steel doors — looks genuinely governmental.

There may be other reasons not to refurbish the old jailer’s house, but what we’ve heard to date, namely the existence of safety hazards in the old building and standing water in the basement, seem like flimsy excuses in light of the $1 million budget for the new building. But why renovate an old building when you could have a new one?

The fate of the current Sheriff’s Office building is important for several reasons. The county commissioners had hoped, upon the completion of the new building, to sell the former jailer’s house as a single-family residence, razing the old jail to create a buffer between the house and the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center. But a government loophole related to the funding of the proposed building appears to have given the usually toothless Maine Historical Preservation Commission an unusual amount of leverage, such that the organization may be able to prevent any substantial changes to either the former jailer’s house or the old jail.

When this conundrum was aired before the Belfast Planning Board, county officials said they might instead keep the old sheriff’s office building, possibly renovating it in a few years’ time to use for county offices. When we asked Commissioner William Shorey how that would be different from renovating the building for the Sheriff’s Office, he said the number of employees working in the building would be far fewer. Maybe, but what about the standing water and safety hazards? In any scenario short of demolishing the building, those issues would have to be addressed. Given the opposition of MHPC, demolishing the building does not appear to be an option.

We don’t fault the commissioners and the sheriff for wanting to be done with a building that was never designed to house the Sheriff’s Office, but a thorough renovation of the building, possibly incorporating the old jail, would solve several problems, pleasing both the neighbors and the preservationists, while accomplishing the goal of modernizing the sheriff’s offices.

We agree with the neighbors who say that $1 million is more than enough money to do the kind of forward-thinking, creative gut renovation that is regularly done in other places — think factory converted to shopping center. This approach would maintain the historic exterior while rendering the interior thoroughly modern, thoroughly unresidential. Further, the renovated building would have a civic presence about it that the proposed low-slung, utilitarian building would lack. Unlike either the current offices or those proposed for the back lot, it would be something everyone could be proud of.

While county officials may find it easier to press ahead with Plan A, they have not made an adequate case that it’s the only option, or the best.