SEMINOLE — Richard O. Jacobson Technical High School principal Martha Giancola had only been on the job for a few weeks when Hurricane Irma blew onto campus and blew away a barn used by students studying in the veterinary science program.

“Once upon a time, a big ole red barn was sitting in this field,” Giancola said May 17 during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the school’s new veterinary science building. “The Monday after Hurricane Irma came through our area, we found pieces of the barn strewn all over our 44-acre campus.

“I had been principal for a good six weeks, so I had all the answers and knew exactly what to do when your barn blows away,” Giancola said laughingly.

Thanks to the support of the Pinellas Community Education Foundation, the Pinellas County School Board and superintendent Michael Grego, a brand-new building with an attached barn, dubbed by Giancola as a “barn on steroids,” now stands where the old barn once sat.

“We’re here to celebrate two really different things,” Grego said of the foundation’s support for the technical school. “We’re here to celebrate the opening of this facility, but we’re also here to … recognize the generosity of the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation.”

The foundation, named after the late businessman and philanthropist, gifted the district $5 million to replace the outdated technical academies which dated to the early 1960s.

The school was recently awarded the New and Emerging Magnet School of Excellence Award, which is the highest honor possible for a new magnet school.

“Just a couple of weeks ago, Jacobson Technical High School was recognized as the top new magnet school in the nation,” Grego said. “That is a recognition that will always be with you.

“Jacobson Technical High School opened just a few years ago,” he continued. “In that short time, the school has become a model school of excellence. The amount of exposure in such a short time has been unprecedented.”

In addition to the barn, the building houses classrooms as well as indoor kennels for dogs, cats and bunnies, as well as outdoor facilities for cows, pigs, goats and horses.

The cost of the project was $4,612,268. According to the school district, 72% of project budget was spent locally, which includes $2,787,218 of subcontracts awarded.

“This building is not all about animals,” Giancola said in her closing remarks. “It’s about investing in students. I can’t help but believe that the return on the investment of our students is a sure thing.”