2015 — Ellen Ochoa STEM Academy at Ben Milam Elementary

Grand Prairie ISD—Ellen Ochoa STEM Academy at Ben Milam Elementary

A new PK-5 STEM Academy. This project is a replacement school combining two existing campuses and an existing gymnasium was incorporated into the new design.


This school of choice attracts students throughout the district and surrounding areas, to provide unique opportunities to a greater number of students. Community and government partners are frequent on-site collaborators and supporters. The adjacent aging neighborhood has a greater sense of pride and prominence through this community asset. STUDENT AMBASSADORS welcome visitors and lead tours, showing off the project and collaboration spaces on display.

Stars of Distinction Design

The conceptual design was inspired by SCIENCE CONCEPTS of plate tectonics and geological strata, the MATHEMATIC GOLDEN RATIO, AND EXPOSED ENGINEERED TECHNOLOGY AND BUILDING SYSTEMS. The iconic entry fosters identify and pride for the students, while the connecting atrium with exposed building systems and a central collaboration space, use the building as a teaching tool. The science and art classrooms and the “Experiment Courtyard” are on axis with the entry, highlighting the STEM curriculum.


Administrators, students and teachers were asked to IMAGINE what the school should be. The SCHOOL’S MISSION of hands-on experiences that allow real-world insights were given form, creating a school that fosters creative inquirers and confident communicators. Transparency, flexibility and collaboration were tools used through the design. House Bill 5 areas of community involvement, college ready students and digital learning environments were highlighted.


SUSTAINABILITY IS WOVEN THROUGHOUT THE SCHOOL’S CURRICULUM and the building design, as educational tools. Elements such as a raised stream table illustrating erosion and flood effects, native planting and a nature trail foster these goals. The district chose to build the two-story school on a small footprint on the existing athletic field rather than a new greenfield site. An automated daylight harvesting system turns of fixtures when not needed.

Stars of Distinction Value

The district chose to close two underperforming campuses and created a new high performing STEM Academy. This decision increased student success and provided a SIGNIFICANT REDUCTION IN OPERATION AND MAINTENANCE COSTS. A recent gymnasium addition was reused in the new replacement school. Each space is designed for multiple functions, to minimize square footage and fully use of the facility. A compact building footprint and minimal circulation provides cost efficiency and ease of wayfinding.

School Transformation

In the STEM Academy, students don’t just answer a question, they PROVE IT. New collaboration spaces and project rooms provide the experiences necessary to foster this philosophy. Open, messy environments allow students to FEEL SAFE TO MAKE MISTAKES and learn from them. Integrated technology inside and outside of the building eliminate barriers and further open the box of the classroom. Bottom line, a school should inspire students to CONFIDENTLY ACHIEVE THEIR GOALS.

Stars of Distinction Star of Distinction Category Winner