Ocala, Florida. Oct 10th, 2011.

The rain was fast and furious. As Monday morning’s storm — a spinning, hybrid low-pressure system — headed up the spine of the Florida peninsula, it dumped more than 4 inches of rain in Ocala.

As the storm passed, Ocala retention ponds overflowed and water gushed across Silver Springs Boulevard and into neighborhoods, especially near Ocala Golf Club and Fort King Middle School.

Hours later, sinkholes began opening throughout the area — including some on two school campuses.

Now a financially strapped School District must evaluate the severity of the sinkholes — all primarily in retention areas — and await results of geological testing.

Only then will the district know the cost of pumping thousands of gallons of grout into the holes to shore up the ground.

It appears that the sinkholes are not jeopardizing any buildings. Still, “we have to fill them,” Deputy Superintendent of Schools Wally Wagoner said.

“We just can’t leave open holes at the schools.”

Several sinkholes opened on the Howard Middle School campus. Most were inside fenced retention areas, but at least one had to be fenced off by district officials.

The sinkhole at Ward-Highlands Elementary is in a retention area in the middle of the school bus loop. Wagoner said that, at present, it’s still safe for buses to use the loop — as long as they stay in a single lane.

“We will watch it very closely,” he said.

The Ward-Highlands sinkhole is so deep that Robert Knight, the district’s supervisor over facilities, cannot see the bottom. Wagoner believes the sinkhole is at least 25 feet deep, and likely deeper.

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