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On a Sunday evening in July, Mason Crest Elementary Principal Brian Butler discovered his new school’s recently finished playground area was sinking.

Heavy rains had caused the school’s six-hoop basketball courts to crater in the middle. This was an unexpected problem, but Butler said Mason Crest’s recesses would go on.

“Students and staff did great on the field as they have balls, jump ropes and other equipment to play with,” he said.

The sinking problem is on schedule to be repaired soon, according to Fairfax County Public Schools construction staff.

“We’re going to pave [Sept. 6] and stripe it Friday. And then it will be ready next week,” said Kevin Sneed, director of the school system’s Design and Construction Services.

Mason Crest’s playground problem is an oddity, he added.

“We had a limited area in which to handle the stormwater management. … So we built a rain tank below this paved play area. The thing looks like milk crates snapped together,” Sneed said.

Only after Mason Crest’s system failed did the school system hear that as many as four similar systems used around the county — not within public school facilities — had experienced similar problems.

Repairing Mason Crest could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Sneed said.

“At the end of the day, the contractor is responsible for it until we find out what caused it,” he said. “Our civil engineers designed a totally new system.”

Fairfax County Public Schools contracts construction projects to bidders based on a public bidding process, with the goal of choosing the lowest responsive and responsible bidder. The stormwater management system used at Mason Crest was an approved option by the county, but has since been removed by county officials, Sneed said.

The stormwater management system used at Mason Crest also was installed at the new South County Middle School in Lorton and Beech Tree Elementary in Falls Church, which recently was renovated.

“The conditions there are different than they were at Mason Crest,” Sneed said, adding there have not been issues reported at either of the other schools. “A lot of folks are well intentioned and they’ll say this is a new technology and it’s environmentally friendly or whatever. … But I would rather go with something that’s been tested.”

Sneed’s Office of Design and Construction juggled construction and renovation projects at more than 60 schools this summer, including the opening of two new schools — Mason Crest Elementary and South County Middle.

hhobbs@fairfaxtimes.com