Visitors will get a big whale-come to this year’s Fantasy Lights at Spanaway Park. Bates Technical College welding students crafted a ginormous whale as part of the college’s contribution to the holiday drive-through gift of lights. The 30-foot long resplendent display joins the rest of the bubbly aquatic scene animals spouting up near the back of the park.

The planning for our displays begins much earlier than you might guess, and takes students from several programs to contribute to the shimmering sights and jolly sounds of this Northwest tradition.

During the college’s summer quarter, a handful of welding students formed the displays. They laid out the design, and then bent, cut and welded the pieces together to form the framework.

chalk drawing of whale on concrete floor of welding shopEach year, Pierce County Parks and Recreation provides the Welding program with the design sketches, and it’s up to the students to match the sketch and customize the displays for use in the park.

The project is completed by the end of October, when a handful of students in the truck driving program transport the large pieces to Spanaway Park for painting. Next, about 40 students enrolled in electronics from either the Biomedical Service Technician: Clinical Engineering or the Electronic Equipment Service Technician programs wire the display with strings of lights that bring life and movement to the larger-than-life display.

After verifying the programming for the Programmable Logic Controller, a computer-operated light switch used to automate the display, the students spend the next few days tediously securing electrical wiring to the frame with more than 3,000 zip ties. Then, they test the system to ensure that the electrical equipment works properly, and that the timing and movement are accurate.

students stringing lights on the metal formsInstructor Franklin Hsu noted this process is a direct application of the PLC programming that students learn in their Electronic Equipment Service Technology PLC class. “It is a wonderful opportunity to apply those programming skills to this project,” he added.

The skills are important for the students to master as they prepare to enter the workforce, said Hsu. “Using electronics know-how to build animated and lighted displays helps students understand many of the elements of sequencing, wiring and other program competencies,” he said.

students adding lights to the metal displaysOur students have built more than 70 displays for Fantasy Lights, which first switched on the holiday lights in 1995. Counting the dazzling Bates-built scenes and figures in the park will keep you busy. Scores of our students’ work are found around each bend of the 2.2-mile drive-through event. The bright, giant pirate ship, rows of sunny daffodils and cherry-red tulips, swimming sea creatures, and a troupe of twinkling elves are just a few of the shining displays the college has contributed to Fantasy Lights over the past 24 years.

Creative holiday scenes and strong community partners make Fantasy Lights a truly unique and festive experience—one that has become a cherished relationship for the college.

“Our rewarding 24-year long partnership with Fantasy Lights shines a light on this truly unique hands-on learning tradition for our students,” said Bates Technical College President Dr. Lin Zhou. “We look forward to being a part of it each holiday season.”

Fantasy Lights at Spanaway Park

Nov. 22, 2018 – Jan. 1, 2019
5:30-9:00 p.m.

Admission is charged per vehicle at the gate:

  • $14 per vehicle /mini-bus (up to 24 passengers)
  • $45 for each bus with 25 or more passenger capacity
  • Special Half Price Nights:
    • Monday-Wednesday:

      • November 26, 27, 28 
      • December 3, 4, 5
    • Only $7/vehicle at the gate

      (Half Price nights not valid with buses; Coupons can not be combined with/on half price nights. No refunds for presale tickets on half price nights.)

All rates subject to change.