Thousands of twinkling lights will illuminate a frosted face at this year’s Fantasy Lights at Spanaway Park. Bates Technical College welding students crafted an enormous Old Man Winter as part of the college’s contribution to the holiday drive-through gift of lights. The 14-foot tall creation will blow sparkles of snowflakes through the wintery landscape.
The planning for the college’s display 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.
This year, a group of Welding program students formed the displays during fall quarter. They laid out the design and grid on the shop floor, and then bent, cut and welded the pieces together to form the framework.
Each year, Pierce County Parks and Recreation provides the instructor 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 mid-October, when a handful of students in the Commercial Truck Driving: Entry Level program transport the large display 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 Old Man Winter.
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 movements are accurate.
Instructor 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.
Counting the dazzling Bates-built scenes and figures in the park will keep you busy. You can find scores of our students’ work around each bend of the 2.2-mile drive-through event. Bates students have built nearly 100 displays for Fantasy Lights, which first switched on the holiday lights 25 years ago. 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.
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 25-year long relationship with Fantasy Lights shines a light on this truly colorful hands-on learning tradition for our students,” said Bates Technical College President Dr. Lin Zhou. “Every holiday season, we look forward to being a part of it.”