Three communities update websites

by Eric Hagen
Staff Writer

Andover, East Bethel and Ham Lake’s websites have received complete face-lifts over the past half-year. City leaders from each community said after years of maintaining the same look, the time was right to create a fresh appearance.

City of Andover main Web page

Andover’s general design was a decade old, according to City Administrator Jim Dickinson. Although the city was receiving compliments on the website up until the change, Dickinson said city staff felt it was time for a new look.

“The primary goal was trying to get our website to look better and have a more professional look,” Dickinson said.

With the work of the city’s own informational systems coordinator Scott Allen, Andover was able to get this goal accomplished at a low cost, Dickinson said.

Ham Lake’s new site was designed by Jared Nordlund with input coming from City Administrator Doris Nivala, Mayor Mike Van Kirk and Councilmember Julie Braastad.

Nordlund knew everything there was to know about Ham Lake’s website before he took this job because he has worked on every Ham

City of East Bethel main Web page

Lake city website. When he was a Ham Lake resident in 1999, he volunteered to develop the city’s first website for free. He last updated the site in 2005, so Nivala said city staff had been discussing the need for another update.

“We just wanted a fresh look,” Braastad said.

East Bethel also formed a committee to brainstorm about the website. Kristin Pechman of Desktop Impressions out of Lino Lakes was the city’s contractor.

Wendy Warren, East Bethel’s deputy city clerk, said the website is still under design and changing all the time.

Pechman helped with the appearance of the home page and implementing content management practices.

“I think that websites will constantly evolve as technology evolves, so I don’t think of the next edition as the ‘final edition,’” said Councilmember Heidi Moegerle, another member of East Bethel’s website

City of Ham Lake main Web page

committee.

Highlighting the changes

Ham Lake wanted videos to be a bigger part of its website, Nivala said. A video talking about the community is prominently placed on Ham Lake’s home page. Braastad said North Metro TV produced and edited the video and the plan is for Ham Lake’s website to have more videos on it to highlight different aspects of the city.

East Bethel’s old website had a number of issues, according to Moegerle. She felt the “search” function was poor, the organization was not logical or user friendly, the website design was dated and there were times when content was difficult to find.

East Bethel’s website utilizes a stock photo of a young girl running along a beach and holding a white sheet that flutters in the breeze. Moegerle said the symbolism of this is meant to convey that, “A fresh breeze is blowing through East Bethel and it is invigorating the residents.”

Andover wanted a Web page specifically dedicated to economic development. There was some economic development information in the planning department’s Web page under the old design, but Andover Community Development Director David Carlberg said the planning department Web page is best used for information on obtaining permits and city codes.

Carlberg said the city really needed a Web page for those needing background information on economic development opportunities in the city.

Within Andover’s economic development Web page is a map showing Andover Station and Andover Station North and icons indicating what businesses are already located there such as Target, Festival Foods and DSTI. The following page of the PDF document lists what city property is available for sale in this development, what the zoning is and the sales price.

Andover’s economic development Web page also lists other property for sale within the city. Carlberg said staff within his department track what is going on in the city. Once a property sale closes or a new property is available for purchase, a city intern updates the list on the website.

Drop-down menus are an integral part of all three sites. This feature is activated when scrolling the mouse over a menu option such as “government,” which on East Bethel’s site brings up options including agendas and minutes, budget, city council, city commissions and ordinances. Scrolling over “Agendas & Minutes” allows the person surfing the site to click on agendas or minutes for the council, or one of the city commissions without having to click through multiple Web pages.

The main Web page for Ham Lake’s old site included an alphabet search engine. According to Nordlund, who now lives in Orlando, Fla., so many items were on the website that organizing by letters in the alphabet was the quickest way for people to find what they were looking for. Upgrades in search engine technology allowed Ham Lake to ditch this and let people find what they are looking for using a general search engine.

Ham Lake’s main page highlights some of the most important information such as city hall’s address, phone number and hours, and the calendar of upcoming meetings and events. People had to click on a “contact us” tab to find city hall information before.

Ham Lake’s website includes many different maps such as one that allows people to zoom in on certain areas of the community to find out the zoning of a particular property. Another map shows where the city parks are. Click on a picnic table logo on the map where the park is and the park’s name, size, address and amenities are listed.

“It’s not like we are putting out more information,” Braastad said when comparing the old site with the new site. “It was just about putting a contemporary look on it and being able to find information faster.”

Allen said council minutes, employment information and the city newsletter are the three things people look at the most on the city of Andover’s website. Therefore, Allen’s design on the main Web page included quick links to these three Web pages as well as a few others such as the city’s Facebook page, the video archive of recent council and commission meetings and recycling information.

Andover hopes to add more “action photos” of people doing things in the community, Dickinson said. The city at some point may ask residents to submit photos for the website.

East Bethel would also like to add more photos to its website in the background and perhaps as a slideshow, Moegerle said. There is still much work to be done behind the scenes.

Moegerle said the city is reviewing website policies such as what organizations can list announcements on the website, what links are permitted, how long will content stay on the site and how will business listings or links to the area be handled.

“The possibilities are limited only by our imaginations, technology and whether the budget for the next website edition permits those possibilities,” she said.

• Andover (www.ci.andover.mn.us)

• East Bethel (www.ci.east-bethel.mn.us)

• Ham Lake (www.ci.ham-lake.mn.us)

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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