Fantasy Lights and Bates Technical College partnership fuels real-world experience

Posted: November 21, 2017

The largest drive-through holiday lights display in the Northwest is just south of Tacoma at Spanaway Park. With more than 300 vibrant installations, Fantasy Lights has become a tradition for many—including students at Bates Technical College.

For the past 23 years, the college has collaborated with Pierce County Parks and Recreation to offer a hands-on learning opportunity for its welding students, who have built more than 70 displays for the park.

This year’s contribution is a magnificent fairy-tale castle that reaches 16 feet into the night sky. Built during the college’s summer quarter, the castle is an example of the real-world learning experiences the partnership helps provide.

Bates Technical College Welding students Michael Bale, Jesse Breitbarth and Jose’ Rogers constructed the giant castle for Fantasy Lights.

Seventh-quarter students Jesse Breitbarth and Jose’ Rogers, and fourth-quarter student Michael Bale laid out the design, and then bent, cut and welded the pieces together to form the framework.

The idea for each project comes from Pierce County Parks and Recreation, and it’s the students’ job to match the sketch and customize the displays for use in the park.

“Students take a great deal of pride in their work, and are always excited to watch their illuminated project set in motion at the park for their families and others to enjoy,” said Rick Huston, Bates’ welding program instructor.

The project is completed by the end of October, when a handful of truck driving students transport the large pieces to Spanaway Park for painting. Next, about 40 students enrolled in electronics wire the display with strings of lights that bring life and movement to the displays.

Students enrolled in electronics wire the display with strings of lights that bring life and movement to the displays.

Counting the resplendent 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 annual light show.

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 annual participation in Fantasy Lights shines a light on our community involvement with neighborhood partners. Fantasy Lights is a fun and rewarding tradition for our students and employees, and we look forward to being a part of it each holiday season,” said Bates Technical College President Dr. Ron Langrell.

Fantasy Lights is open nightly, 5:30-9 p.m., Thanksgiving Day through New Year’s Day. For more information about the event, go to


Bates Technical College offers classes on campus, online and hybrid. For Fall Quarter 2021, vaccinations will be required. Learn more about vaccinations and our COVID-19 response on the COVID-19 resource page.