McHenry County school districts weigh cost, benefits of websites

HUNTLEY – The website for Huntley Community School District 158 is the primary source of information for many people, a district official said, and the newest version of it only cost the district only $114.

As director of communications and public engagement, part of Dan Armstrong’s job when he came in last year was to revamp the district’s website – a task several other districts have undertaken recently as websites have become a go-to source for information.

“One of the main goals was to get all of our school sites and our district site on one platform,” Armstrong said, later adding, “We were trying to modernize our look to make it cleaner and fairly consistent with our brand. Before it was kind of a hodgepodge.”

A spotlight feature, the same that cost the $114, is a calendar that includes all the district’s activities and can be filtered based on what visitors are looking for.

Armstrong opted to use WordPress, a free and open-source content management system, aiming to keep the cost low.

In McHenry County, the in-house practice makes the district an outlier on a website-related spending scale.

Like several others, Fox River Grove School District 3, went with an outside Web-hosting service, which cost $2,130 for the initial development and an annual cost of $4,680.

In Crystal Lake, School District 47 will spend $18,190 for the first year of its Web-hosting contract, which also includes customer support and a mobile application for the district’s 13 sites and teacher pages, Coordinator of Community Relations Denise Barr said.

It will pay $17,110 for years two and three of the service agreement.

On the higher end, Algonquin-based Community Unit School District 300 – the sixth largest district in Illinois – expects the overall cost for a new website will be between $80,000 to $90,000, said Anthony McGinn, District 300 director of public relations and communication services.

While still in the beginning phases of choosing a company to redesign the site, McGinn said he thinks the final cost of such a project depends on how complex the website is, as well as how large a district is from a training standpoint.

Whatever company District 300 decides on will provide professional training to the various faculty and staff who will have to be proficient in operating and managing the site, he said.

“A big component is malware, too,” McGinn added, saying that would be his concern with using a simpler, less-expensive option.

Keeping the operations in-house is what resulted in a major cost savings for District 158, Armstrong said, but it also means a lot more work for him.

Designing and putting together the site took a lot of effort and time familiarizing himself with coding languages, he said.

The whole project took about a year, with a majority of the work being done over the summer.

“I guess a downside is that I have ongoing maintenance duties for it that you could outsource,” he said. “It’d be less on my plate, for sure, if we outsourced it.”

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