Nicknamed “the southern part of heaven,” Chapel Hill is a vibrant college town with diverse cultural attractions and a commitment to education. With a population of 51,519, Chapel Hill offers the best of both worlds with a small town feel, but big city culture.
The town has an inseparable bond to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill dating back to 1789 when the cornerstone of Old East, the first campus building, was laid. Because of the University, residents in Chapel Hill enjoy the perks the institution has to offer. Attend a play, concert or dance performance on the University’s campus. UNC’s PlayMaker’s Repertory Company performs at the Center for Dramatic Art and the Paul Green Theatre.
For those interested in world-renown acts or a wide array of world music and dance, Memorial Hall is the place to go. Shows at Memorial range from jazz musicians to the St. Petersburg (Russia) Philharmonic. Lecturers and well-known speakers are also brought in to speak on campus, and many of those lectures are open to the public. In 2010, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel; New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, and CNN correspondent Soledad O’Brien, among others, spoke to students and community members. While you’re exploring, make sure to stroll through the North Carolina Botanical Gardens or the galleries of the Ackland Art Museum. You can also enjoy stargazing at the Morehead Planetarium.
Sports enthusiasts shouldn’t fret either. UNC is Michael Jordan’s alma mater, and a love for basketball runs deep in Chapel Hill. Make sure to attend a Tar Heel basketball game in the Smith Center – better known as the Dean Dome, and check out the UNC Basketball Museum while you’re there. If you’d rather play hoops, you can find a court at one of many local parks or at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA. But basketball’s not for everyone, and Chapel Hill has other activities covered too. Golfers can enjoy the public A.E. Finley Golf Course at UNC or one of Chapel Hill’s semi-private or private courses.
Foodies have plenty of eating choices in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Durham and Raleigh area. Many restaurants embrace the farm-to-table philosophy and sustainability. Some of my favorites include Crooks Corner and The Lantern.
Chapel Hill/Carrboro Schools
Chapel Hill is served by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools system (CHCCS). The system is one of two public systems in Orange County, NC, and has benefitted tremendously from its proximity to the University and world-renown Research Triangle Park. Serving more than 11,000 students, the district runs three high schools, four middle schools and 10 elementary schools. CHCCS also operates a school for young patients at UNC Hospitals and an alternative high school program.
The district boasts North Carolina’s highest SAT score at 1185 or 1757 if the writing component is included. The state average is 1,004 and nationally students earn an average 1017. These high scores were earned with 96 percent of the district’s eligible students taking the test. Advanced Placement courses are offered and utilized by more than 1200 high school students in the district. Those courses have helped two of the district’s high schools earn spots in Newsweek Magazine’s list of top high schools. Students educated in the district continue on to two- or four-year institutions at a rate of 92 percent. The district also has North Carolina’s lowest dropout rate at 1.12 percent.
Educators in the district play a major role in the success of students. Roughly 200 teachers in the district hold the prestigious certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Within the district, 42 percent of teachers hold master’s or doctorate degrees, and many choose to stay in the district. The turnover rate for teachers in the district is 8.5 percent compared with the state average of 17 percent. Chapel Hill also offers many private pre-schools to get children ready for kindergarten and four additional private schools.
Franklin Street is the hub of the central business district in Chapel Hill. Teaming with small, locally-owned businesses and recognizable regional and national brands, the area has an exciting mix of clothing boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops and, of course, plenty of places to by UNC memorabilia. Downtown Franklin Street is also street fair central – the planned ones such as Festifall and the impromptu ones sparked by an NCAA basketball championship victory — which happens to occur fairly regularly in these parts. The modern focus on mixed use development downtown also ensures a future where more downtown residents are within a short walk of the nearby businesses, which should provide a strong economic future for the town. Chapel Hill is also located just outside Research Triangle Park, a 7,000-acre home to 131 companies along Interstate 40 straddling the Durham and Wake County lines. RTP employs 38,500 people, and the average wage is $56,000. Of the 10 largest employers in Chapel Hill, six are related to the University, University medical center, local government and the school systems.
Chapel Hill is ranked 40th in Money Magazine’s best places to live. The median household income for Chapel Hill is $47,051, but that number is actually influenced downward by the high student population at the university. The median family income for the metro area is $85,339. The town is hoping to expand business opportunities with its economic development plan. The goals of the town are to focus on locally owned/oriented businesses, collaborate with the University and analyze the retail market to find room for expansion. Chapel Hill is served by four major newspapers: The Chapel Hill News, The Daily Tar Heel, the Durham Herald-Sun and the Raleigh News & Observer. It is also the home of 1360 WCHL AM, the flagship station for UNC Tar Heel football and basketball broadcasts.