Tucked behind some trees off of Raleigh Road in Chapel Hill lies the Spangler Complex – formerly known as the Spangler Center and the home to the UNC System headquarters. The main offices moved there in 1971 just a year before the UNC System grew to all public North Carolina schools joined together. But this summer, the North Carolina General Assembly had the headquarters relocated to Raleigh and left the buildings behind.

So, what is that Spangler Complex being used for now? One long-standing UNC institute moved in earlier this month.

The Frank Porter Graham Institute for Child Development began in 1966 as an initiative to study children and improve their wellbeing. At the time, it was just a group of scientists with ties to UNC. Since then, it’s grown to more than 200 employees and its work can be found in all 100 counties of North Carolina.

Brian Boyd, who has served as the institute’s interim director since February, says the group focuses on three elements of operations. It conducts research and evaluations of children’s behaviors and outcomes, recommends implementation of policies based on its findings, and provides technical assistance to groups who care for children. The institute works with a variety of UNC’s departments and schools while operating under the umbrella of the university’s Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research.

“Part of our mission,” Boyd says, “is to pull other groups in to really foster the research environment around how [to] advance knowledge, advance practice, advance science around improving the outcomes of children and families.”

The C.D. Spangler Jr. Building, which is the building in the Spangler Complex that the FPG Institute occupies.

Brian Boyd, interim director for the Frank Porter Graham Institute for Child Development. (Photo via UNC-Chapel Hill/Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.)

With its growth and ongoing work, however, the Frank Porter Graham Institute had outgrown its old home. Boyd, who began his career at UNC as a researcher at the Frank Porter Graham Institute in 2007, says a move from the facility off Smith Level Road had been on the to-do list for many of his predecessors. The building, which the institute moved into after construction in the 1970s, was aging and the FPG team had to be split across multiple locations because of its size.

“A number of prior directors had been trying to find a new place for FPG,” Boyd says. “The building we occupied – while having a lot of memories, just given the history of the place – was a bit outdated.”

After looking at some different opportunities, Boyd and the institute were approached by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research about using the Spangler Complex. The two buildings – named after former UNC System President C.D. Spangler Jr. and his wife Meredith – were set to be vacant as the university system headquarters moved out to their new home at an office building in downtown Raleigh. The office suggested the C.D. Spangler Jr. Building for FPG.

While the move raised questions about the proximity of the UNC System from its campuses and the state legislature, it objectively opened a better opportunity for FPG and its staff.

“This was a great opportunity for us to be able to move to a building that, for lack of a better word, is up to code,” says Boyd. “It’s really an upgrade over where we were… but the bypass building holds wonderful memories of the historic work that happened there.”

The Frank Porter Graham Institute has already installed signs for its various projects and programs within its new building, like this one for its Impact Center — which provides implementation support for different partners across the state.

Now, Boyd says the FPG Institute has enough room for nearly all of its employees – but has the flexibility to offer “touch-down” space for hybrid workers and updated offices for research teams of all sizes. The location is much closer to UNC’s campus, and he says there is more functional space for child assessment projects.

Although the child development institution has only been at the Spangler Complex for a few days, its interim director says he believes the team is already beginning to feel comfortable. After years of staff being “reluctant to believe” a new, feasible space was on the horizon, Boyd says the hope is the Spangler building can provide FPG a home for many more decades of research.

“It feels like a work home for us,” he says, “and I think there’s something thrilling about being able to all be together, finally be in this new space. It will reinvigorate the way we collaborate with each other, but also I think it will spark new ideas, new collaborations, and new science…just by being here.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to specify Boyd began his career at UNC as a researcher at the Frank Porter Graham Institute.

Chapelboro.com does not charge subscription fees, and you can directly support our efforts in local journalism here. Want more of what you see on Chapelboro? Let us bring free local news and community information to you by signing up for our biweekly newsletter.