FerndaleJune 20, 2012
Ferndale hopes new website will bring city into 21st century
By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer
FERNDALE — The city will soon begin redesigning its outdated website with the goal of making it more accessible and inviting for residents.
At its June 11 meeting, the Ferndale City Council unanimously approved contracts with two different companies: Artemis Technologies and Skidmore Studio. The contract with Artemis is to redesign the city website and implement a new content management system for costs not to exceed $30,000, and to provide hosting and technical support for the first year at a cost of $5,092. The contract with Skidmore, meanwhile, includes $9,380 to create new branding, logos and graphic design for the city.
City Manager April McGrath cited a dire need to make the website “much more efficient and user friendly.” According to Joe Gacioch, project and grant coordinator for the city, Ferndale staff currently receives phone calls and emails on a daily basis from residents and businesses that are not able to find information quickly and easily online.
The primary goals of the new site, he explained, will be to optimize navigation to alleviate problems for users, to upgrade the city’s digital brand to foster more residential and economic interest, and to create a central reference point for the city’s social media pages to allow for greater interaction with residents.
“I think this is the first step in the staff and the City (Council) coming together and helping the city of Ferndale evolve as a leader and as a digital community,” Gacioch said.
The updated website will incorporate new features, such as online bill payments, opinion polls, photo and video galleries, and an interactive calendar. It will also include an online business directory featuring economic development tools, resources and support for current and prospective businesses. Gacioch noted that a recurring theme with the new website will be increased user participation, featuring discussions that come directly to site visitors.
“Our website needs to be really dynamic; it needs to always be forward-thinking and forward-moving,” he told the council. “We don’t want to get into a position where three years down the line, our website still looks the same. We want it to constantly evolve with developing trends in technology, telecommunications and website management.”
Gacioch estimated that the entire redesign process would take six to nine months to complete, adding that the goal of city staff is to launch the new website by Jan. 1, 2013.
Councilwoman Melanie Piana said that she was “really excited” to be moving forward with the redesign. She pointed out that by improving Ferndale’s online infrastructure and branding, the project is part of an ongoing restructuring process at City Hall.
Piana also noted that this endeavor has been several years in the making. “This is a long-awaited contract,” she said. “(Former Councilwoman) Kate Baker ran on updating the city website for her campaign when she was elected five years ago. It has taken a long time to get here for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into, but I really think that we’re ready to put our best foot forward (with) our most valuable marketing tool, which is our website.”
This spring, the city received bids for the project from 24 web design companies. That field was narrowed down to four finalists, who each gave presentations last month before a 10-member panel that included Gacioch, McGrath and other department heads. The panel then made its recommendation to council to go with Artemis. The council itself later interviewed four graphic design companies at a special meeting on May 21 before ultimately selecting Skidmore.
Councilman Mike Lennon stated that he has “heard some rumblings” from Ferndale residents who have criticized the city for committing $30,000 to a new website during such difficult economic times. However, he believes that the investment will be well worth it in the long run.
“Until Joe and April came on board,” he said, “we were basically running a boiler-room operation with our IT department and our website. It was just pathetic, and it had been like that for a while. I’ve been told that this (money) could pay for an employee for a year in one of the various departments, and you know what? It might, eventually. By spending 30 grand right now, that might free up another employee down the road.”
Mayor Dave Coulter also trumpeted the value of a new city website. “Trust me: This is, from the back end to the front end, a complete redesign that ultimately is for the purpose of making it easier for our residents to interact with the city,” he said. “We’ve had to close City Hall on Fridays, and we know that our hours are limited, so we want to make it as easy and accessible as possible for our residents and businesses to find out information about Ferndale. And so in the long term, this is a key tool, which is why we’ve taken the time to do it right and why we’re doing it at all.”
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