Skills USA Shifts to Accommodate MLB Fan Fest

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- More than 14,000 people in town this week for the Skills USA conference will be leaving early so that Bartle Hall can be set up for Major League Baseball's Fan Fest.

For nearly 18 years the students and teachers who are part of Skills USA started their conference on Monday and ended on Friday. But Wednesday is the last day for technical education conference this year. The convention has to clear out- and clear out quick- to make way for Major League Baseball's big event.

Inside Bartle Hall more than 6,000 students are baking bread, welding and routing plumbing lines. Setting up all these competitions takes months of preparations. And usually vocational education organizers get a couple of days to tear it all down. But not this year.

"We have to clear this place out, Bartle Hall, 11 football fields, in 24 hours," said Peyton Holland, Skills USA state director from North Carolina. "In the past we've had a little bit more than 24 hours to clear out. From 5 p.m. on Wednesday, they have to be completely out of here which is, when you consider the amount of materials here, that's a big task," Holland said.

Skills USA agreed to shift its convention ahead a couple of days. It started Saturday and ends Wednesday. Major League Baseball needs the time to set up Fan Fest, the largest interactive baseball theme park. Fan Fest is scheduled to open Friday, July 6.

Skills USA, Kansas City's biggest convention, already has decided to leave in two years for Louisville, Ky., where organizers say the event can be in one central location with all activities within walking distance.

"When you think of the numbers, this is about 16 football fields of floor space and we can't fit into it," said Tom Boyer, a past national officer of Skills USA. "It's almost unbelievable. But now throughout the city we've dispersed to 7 different locations throughout Kansas City. So we're getting almost stretched thin with our resources," Boyer said.

Some of the Skills USA participants say they wish they could stay next week to be part of Fan Fest. They say when the conference moves to Kentucky they will miss the hospitality people here have shown them.

The Skills USA conference is a $36-million event which generates about $15-million in spending here.

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