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Regents seek firm to create new website

'The site will focus on improving access'

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Iowa’s Board of Regents is looking to pay a firm to design and implement a new official website that will improve access to board information.

According to a request for proposals the board issued last week, the chosen firm should consider best practices, audience need, and usability standards in crafting a new site.

“The redesign of the site will focus on improving access to online board information, with a look and feel that is consistent with the board’s branded style and graphic elements,” according to the request.

The project involves reviewing the board’s existing site, which has not been updated in nearly a decade, consolidating and deleting unnecessary content, establishing guidelines for style, and delivering a content management system allowing the board to update the site periodically.

The chosen firm must develop a plan — including a schedule with milestone dates — and produce a finished website 16 weeks after signing a contract. According to the board’s timeline, it plans to approve a firm by Feb. 5.

The board issued its request Jan. 11, and proposals are due by Jan. 29. Board spokesman Josh Lehman told The Gazette that, to date, it has received several questions from prospective applicants.

The nine-member Board of Regents governs University of Iowa, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa, and the state’s two special schools — the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School and the Iowa School for the Deaf. Fall enrollment at the universities was 80,132, and the board in recent years has grappled with the issue of dwindling state support and rising student debt.

It’s managed to freeze in-state resident tuition since 2012, but recently approved an increase after the Legislature came up short of its financial request during its last session. Each university is facing unique fiscal concerns, and the board in 2014 launched an efficiency review in hopes of finding places on each campus to consolidate and save.

The board has spent about $5.4 million on consulting fees and expenses related to that efficiency project, and the bill is expected to grow to at least $5.8 million. Savings from the review, however, could reach $7 million by the end of the budget year and many millions more in subsequent years, according to board officials.

In advance of Iowa’s 2016 Legislative Session, the board in September asked for more than $20 million in state appropriations for its universities’ general education budgets. But Gov. Terry Branstad last week proposed just $8 million more to be split among the three institutions, prompting some lawmakers to warn of potential program cuts and tuition increases.

Lehman told The Gazette on Monday the board hasn’t updated its website in eight or nine years, and no specific concerns or complaints prompted its decision to create a new site.

“We just wanted a fresh look and fresh design,” he said.

The board didn’t put a value on how much it would like to spend on the project.

“We want to see what proposals are out there,” Lehman said. “We will review them and make decisions from there.”

According to the board’s request, the process of designing a new website should involve plenty of opportunity for feedback and regular communication during site development. The firm also should migrate content from the old site to the new and provide technical training for board staff on how to use the content management system.

Beyond the new site’s rollout, the firm must recommend ongoing maintenance and identify follow-up projects.

The new website must be “fully responsive” and compliant with federal web accessibility standards that address access for people with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities.

In selecting a firm, according to the request for proposals, the board will give preference to Iowa-based businesses “if the price, qualifications, and experience reflected in the proposals submitted are comparable to the proposals submitted by out-of-state businesses.”

“Consideration will be given to the proposed fee structure and estimated costs, but price will not be the sole determining factor,” according to the documents.

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