These are excellent suggestions. We had not even considered issuing 410's over 404's but I can see exactly what you are saying and this might be something we should carefully consider. I respect that we need to be careful how we go ahead and do something like this. We naturally don't want pages that might just disappear for a day or two but then return but have no chance if they were 410's. So this is something that we need to take some time figuring out how to issue properly. Excellent advice though and I really like it!
As far as the upgrade look goes, the funny thing is, we were just about to start a redesign but then we got scared thinking maybe we shouldn't touch anything! So we put it on the back burner. Sounds to me like we should get the ball rolling and hit it head on. New look, new feel, and figure out how to issue 410's for things we want officially cleaned out. The site doesn't look particularly old but it's been about 3 years since it's last overhaul. It's time.
I think we have a battle plan forming here. I am feeling a little more encouraged here!