By Joe Anuta
Finally, some relief.
Thirty years after a man walked into a Community Board 7 meeting to request a toilet at a public park — in Flushing of all places — the city has taken up his project.
John Byas, now 78, said tears came to his eyes when he was informed that the city Parks Department would construct a restroom in the park across from IS 237, at 46-21 Colden St.
“I fought like hell for this,” Byas said on a recent walk toward the grassy strip where the city had already begun digging up the foundation for the johns, which are set to be operational in about three months.
Byas has lived in Flushing since 1974, when the neighborhood was a different place.
Where the handball and basketball courts, baseball diamonds and community garden now sit across from the school there was once a patch of untamed foliage.
According to Byas, it served little function besides a dumping ground for criminals who wanted to get rid of evidence.
But by the late 1970s, the sport facilities and garden had all been built.
With one notable omission.
There was no bathroom in the park, and the children who played on the fields and the senior citizens who socialized and toiled in the garden could often not even get into the school across the street, he said, since the doors were locked.
Youngsters would drop trou in the street. Older, more modest children would relieve themselves in nearby bushes. From his terrace that overlooks the area, Byas could not help notice even adults and senior citizens relieving themselves in broad daylight.
“This is America in the 21st century!” he said.
Since 1981, the year that a plucky 48-year-old Byas first lobbied for the lavatory, he estimates that he reiterated his concern at least three times annually. That adds up to about 90 speeches.
“In the public session I would get up and say, ‘When am I getting my bathroom?’” Byas said.
He always received the same answer: He would get the bathroom soon, but there was no money just then.
Byas wanted to test that statement.
In 1992, he was elected to the board where he helped decide the budget, which is more like a numbered wish list community boards all over the city put out every year.
Some projects can languish for decades on that list.
“When I got on the board, the bathroom was No. 47,” he said, adding that it had been assigned that number since the 1980s.
Byas sought to move it up, and by 2009 the privy had made its way up to No. 4.
That year, his repeated pleas for a latrine were heard by a Flushing councilman.
The aptly named John Liu, now city comptroller, agreed to dish out $250,000 to build the WC from discretionary funds he enjoyed as a councilman at the time.
The funds were not immediately available, and it took two years for them to work their way through city agencies, culminating in the announcement by Parks two weeks ago that a facility would actually be built.
It will house both boys and girls restrooms — the first containing two toilets and four urinals and the second containing three toilets.
The public toilets will finally provide a basic service to his community, he said, which should not have had to wait through a turn of the century.
Byas said he has been telling many old acquaintances about the new bathroom, some of whom had watched him rally for three decades.
He said their reply is always the same: “Oh, about time.”
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.