City to honor fallen hero; Surprise task force presents Mancini memorial proposal to council

Following six months of effort and three public meetings, a task force presented recommendations on how to memorialize Honor House founder Sgt. Brian Mancini at the Dec. 4 City Council work session at City Hall, 16000 N. Civic Center Plaza. [Submitted photo]

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By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia

City leaders last night got a glimpse of how the city may memorialize one local hero, whose sacrifice and commitment to service still resonates with resonates with communities across the Valley.

Proposal recommendations from the Honoring an Exceptional Leader Task Force – a panel of citizens and staffers asked to devise a fitting tribute to the late U.S. Army Sgt. Brian Mancini – were presented to the City Council at its Dec. 4 work session at City Hall, 16000 N. Civic Center Plaza.

Mr. Mancini was a combat medic, who served 12 years in the Army, including two tours in Baghdad, Iraq, and earned numerous awards and commendations, including two Purple Hearts, the Combat Action Badge, Air Assault Badge and Flight Medic Badge.

Medically retired after suffering life-threatening injuries from a roadside bomb in Iraq, Mr. Mancini came home and founded Honor House, a Phoenix-based facility providing services, therapy and counseling for wounded veterans.

After battling health issues and post-traumatic stress disorder, Mr. Mancini took his own life in 2017 and city leaders have since searched for a fitting tribute to his legacy.

City Manager Mike Frazier, who worked on the tasked force, summed up the feelings of many in the community for Mr. Mancini.

“He came home to Surprise and ultimately opened a place called the Honor House, which is now based in Phoenix,” Mr. Frazier said. “His whole course was to help his fellow veterans recover from war-related injuries, emotional type injuries … just a true American hero in my opinion.”

The group met three times since reconvening in June, holding public meetings and gathering input from numerous stakeholders to develop their proposal. Mr. Frazier said the experience was unlike any he has experienced in his long public service career.

“I’ve been in municipal government now … over 43 years. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of an effort like this in my entire career,” Mr. Frazier said. “This truly was a labor of love.”

Along with Mr. Frazier, the task force was comprised of citizen volunteers, including Susan DeJong and Margaret Lieu from Arts and Culture Commission, Matt Keating and Ken Chapman from the Planning and Zoning Commission and Wayne Turner from Community and Recreation Services Commission.

City staffers on the commission included City Attorney Robert Wingo, Mr. Frazier, Public Works Director Mike Gent, Senior Management Analyst Gloria Bianco, Communications Director Diane Arthur, Capital Improvement Program Manager Mike Boule and Human Service and Community Vitality Director Seth Dyson.

From the first meeting, members of the public attended and engaged in the process, providing dozens of ideas for the panel’s consideration, according to Mr. Gent.

“It was an emotional meeting. I think that most of us … found reasons to feel very grateful for the service that Brian Mancini continues to give to our community, which was the whole intent of the task force,” Mr. Gent said.

The task force finalized a proposal to include two components: an indoor memorial at a city facility and a new public amenity at a city park.

Mr. Gent said panel members wanted to tie the memorial to services being delivered to veterans in the community and came up with the plan to rename a conference room at the Surprise Resource Center, 12425 W. Bell Road, Suite 124.

The facility, among other things, provides a variety of services for veterans, including a veterans’ jobs club and counseling. The renamed conference room would display a plaque with Mr. Mancini’s poem, entitled “Pity”, along with a summary of his life story with his photo.

The second component of the proposal, a reflection circle, would be constructed northeast of the Northwest Regional Library, 16089 N. Bullard Ave., next to the lake, in close proximity to World War I and September 11 memorials, where an attractive landscape feature already exists.

Next to the lake and the other memorials, the spot will provide an ideal setting for the memorial, Mr. Gent said.

“There’s a berm there with some trees and a circle in the middle that’s not too far from several other important memorials in our city,” Mr. Gent said. “Though it’s distinct and separate from those, it’s in the same vicinity, along with the flags, so it is a kind of special spot.”

He said city officials initially reached out to local professionals for advice about the plumbing and electrical requirements to install a water feature at the reflecting circle.

But Jerry Moar, director of landscape architecture at Logan Simpson, and Jesse Westad, owner and principal at Werk Urban Design & Engineering, countered by donating in-kind services to develop a comprehensive design concept for the lake-side memorial.

“They said, oh boy, we’re not going to give you advice on plumbing and electrical. This is something very special,” Mr. Gent recounted. “We’d like to go a little bit further and give you a real, powerful recommendation of what the city of Surprise can do special an unique, that would not only honor the memory of Brian Mancini, but would continue his mission of serving our community and serving veterans in our community and raising the profile of how we appreciate, recognize and support veterans.”

The designers gave a detailed presentation to coucil, explaining the symbolism of their design concept and showing a video depicting a ground-level, 3D rendering of the proposed site.

The site would feature an inner circle and water feature surrounded by an outer circle with low benches, a large shade tree and ample landscaping.

The firms provided their design services at no cost and pledged, should city leaders choose to adopt the recommendation, to serve as the design team to finalize and lead construction of the memorial.

They would also work with city officials to issue a call to the public, seeking other firms and contractors to donate their expertise and services to complete the estimated $80,000 to $100,000 project at no cost to the city or residents.

The conference room display would cost as much as $1,000 to produce, according to estimates.

If the plan moves forward, the designers could produce construction documents within two to three months and, with support from other firms and contractors, the project could be completed in 10 to 11 months, according to Mr. Moar.

Mayor Skip Hall praised the task force and the designers for their efforts thus far and they passion invested in the concept work.

“I just commend you guys for the heartfelt tribute,” Mr. Hall said. “There’s no question that your heart was in it. It’s very moving and it’s a fitting tribute.”

The Tuesday presentation was not a council action item; but with a consensus of support expressed by council members, city staffers will move forward in crafting formal proposals to advance the project, Mr. Gent said.

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