Something I could learn some best practices from too would be ideal. Well written code, clean, simple, modern, compatible, and that uses free resources (web fonts, public domain graphics, etc.) that can be given back as a template.
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I’d suggest you take a look into a CSS framework instead of trying to hack a template. Something like Bootstrap, Foundation or YAML for example (there are a whole bunch to choose from). They are not finished web designs, but rather a bunch of pre-built elements you can easily stack together to create your own site.