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The pit and the curriculum

It didn't seem like much at first, just a crack under the carpet in the central hub of Bayonet Point Middle School.

When a school employee noticed that the crack was widening, though, school officials knew they were faced with a quintessentially Floridian problem.

"Basically, we discovered a sinkhole beneath the commons," said principal Tom Rulison.

The school called in engineers to look at the hole, which isn't visible from the surface, save the crack in the floor. After pulling up the rug and drilling a small exploratory hole, engineers found a sinkhole measuring 16 feet across at its widest, 6 feet across at its narrowest, and 8 feet deep.

The news had Rulison a little worried. Flashing through his mind were images of a 60-foot-deep sinkhole that swallowed a Polk County home last year.

"We were a little alarmed when the crack in the floor got bigger," Rulison said. When he talked to an engineer, however, he found that the hole "posed no big threat."

Engineers said the the hole is inactive, meaning it has settled and shouldn't widen anymore, said Larry Brown. Brown is president of Brown Testing Laboratories, a bay-area company that specializes in sinkholes.

Though the hole probably won't get any larger, it should be filled in with a mixture of limerock and sandy grout as soon as possible, Brown said.

"If it's done correctly, that area will be safer than all those surrounding it," he said. "The likelihood to recur in that area is almost nil."

The area in the school's hub was cordoned off Friday afternoon, and Monday a team with an engineer will come to the school and plug it, Rulison said. The work is expected to cost $10,000 to $20,000; insurance will cover it.

The sinkhole is the first in the school's history, Rulison said. However, finding a sinkhole in the area isn't all that uncommon, Brown said. More than 200 sinkholes were reported in the West Pasco area last year, according to the Florida Sinkhole Research Institute.

The school's hole is a little larger than holes typically reported. Most of those have been 4 to 6 feet across and 4 to 5 feet deep, Brown said.