Durham launches new website, vows to fix problems

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DURHAM — The Town of Durham has launched a new website that allows people to access documents and records from kiosks at town hall and the community center.

And officials hope to deal with some of the problems that have sprung up since the launch later this month.

First Selectman George Eames said the Town had been looking to spruce up its website for the last few years and was finally able to do so thanks to a $25,000 grant from the state, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act.

“From a visual perspective, it’s certainly easier on the eyes and it’s something people appreciate seeing,” he said.

The grant also paid for the town to purchase two touch-screen kiosks that allow residents to access the website. The kiosks were installed at town hall and the community center.

“There are new bells and whistles that will be incorporated in it,” he said. The grant covered the cost of the kiosks.

Recently, officials announced that they have plans to address lingering problems, with the hope being that some of those solutions will be in place by the middle of this month.

Executive assistant John Board laid out a plan for the Board of Selectmen during the board’s most recent meeting. The plan came as residents have been asking for fixes at recent meetings.

Lindsy Dalheimer told the board during its Aug. 22 meeting that it’s difficult to find certain information on the website.

“It’s important for people in town who don’t know how to jump through 50 million hoops to find what they need,” she said.

At the selectmen’s request, Board came up with a plan to complete some of the outstanding items. He said he’d take over the project. Eames said that would allow the town clerk’s office to shift its focus back to other tasks, including preparing for an upcoming municipal election.

Board said he hoped by Sept. 12 to have certain records, including old requests for proposals, or RFPs, and bids for projects available on the website in a way residents can find.

He said he’s working to fix other problems, including uploading old meeting records, but that could take until the end of the year.

Part of the problem, he said, is that the town’s old website is “not even in the ether” because the grant did not include funding to keep that site running.

Board also said he’ll work on search engine optimization, or making sure pages on the website appear higher in internet searches about the town.

While a handful of residents have voiced their frustration, others have come to the town’s defense.

“Let the town get the tedious work done,” Martin Anderson said during the Aug. 12 meeting.

Eames said he understands the frustration, admitting he feels it sometimes, but also called it “pretty amazing” that the town could transition to a new website so quickly.

“We do recognize that change is tough, no doubt, and some things did get missed, but we’re aware of them,” he also said, adding he and Board welcome residents to point out other problems that need to be fixed.

The redesign comes as more residents are engaging with the Town virtually. Durham, like other towns, had to rely on virtual meetings during the pandemic and has continued the practice.

Eames said he’s seen a sizable jump in participation because of that.

“At an old Board of Selectmen meeting, we used to get two or three participants sitting in the audience,” he said. “Now we can have 20 or 30 online watching it on the computer.”


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