BELFAST, Maine — Waldo County Sheriff’s Office deputies were all smiles Friday morning as they escorted open house visitors through the new office building they moved into last month.
The 10,750-square-foot structure in many ways is the polar opposite of the 200-year-old house next door on Congress Street that has been home to the sheriff’s office for 20 years. It is brand-new. It is state-of-the-art. It is light-filled, spacious and has better security.
“It’s just so much more professional. So much more pleasant,” said Chief Deputy Jeff Trafton. “So much more functional.”
But the $2 million building, which also houses the Waldo County Emergency Management Agency, is not without its critics.
A group of people who live in the residential area around the property began protesting its construction two years ago after Waldo County commissioners announced their intention to build.
Much of the building was paid for with grant money, Commissioner William Shorey said Friday. The county also used tax money that has been saved each year in an undesignated fund to pay for the construction.
“The county of Waldo doesn’t owe one dime,” the commissioner said. “It’s all paid for.”
But Thierry Bonneville, who lives and works from his home that is adjacent to the new building, still has some concerns.
“Yes, they planted some trees. Yes, they made an effort to make the building look more like what we wanted,” he said Friday afternoon. “We’re glad they have their building. But still, as taxpayers, we don’t necessarily agree on the way the money is being spent.”
He pointed out that the county now must maintain two buildings instead of just the one on Congress Street. What will happen to the old sheriff’s office is still uncertain, according to Shorey. At the moment, it is being used as an office for the facilities manager. That building is attached to the Waldo County Re-entry Center.
The commissioner said that although there had been some “miscommunication” with the neighbors in the past, he hoped that they are now on better terms.
“We got off on the wrong foot,” he said, but added that the new facility was a long time coming.
“It’s a beautiful facility, and will serve us for many years very well.”
Waldo County Emergency Management Agency Dale Rowley said that he is very pleased with his new digs. Formerly, the agency had been housed in a civil defense bunker in the basement of the Waldo County Jail next door.
“It was dingy and moldy,” he said.
In contrast, the new facility has been built to withstand category 3 hurricanes and will serve as the county’s command center during intense storms. Employees will be able to communicate through satellite phones, ham radio, land-line telephones and cellphones — which did not work in the basement bunker, Rowley said.
A spacious operations room already has been used for trainings by Boy Scout troops, Waldo County Search and Rescue and local firefighters.
In the wing used by the sheriff’s office, there is ample room for the 20 or so employees. Detectives can now interview suspects in rooms that are fully wired for audio and video recordings, Trafton said. In the past, they made do with a small closet. There is a dedicated weapons room with limited access, a small exercise room, a room for file cabinets, a large evidence room, a bay to wash vehicles and another bay where police can work on impounded cars.
“It’s fantastic,” said Sheriff Scott Story. “I’m proud of the staff. Even in light of the old place we worked at, they kept morale going. Now, it’s so nice to see the smiles when they come in. It’s been a long time coming. We’re excited.”