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Ravens sign OT Cedric Ogbuehi, a former first-round pick, to practice squad

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Ravens reportedly signing OT Cedric Ogbuehi, a former first-round pick, to practice squad

The Ravens signed offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to their practice squad Wednesday, giving the team another option along a banged-up offensive line.

Ogbuehi, 29, a first-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2015, was released Monday by the Seattle Seahawks. He began the season on injured reserve with a biceps injury and played in just one game this year for Seattle, starting at right tackle in a Week 4 win over the San Francisco 49ers. Ogbuehi, who tried out for the Ravens on Tuesday, appeared in eight games and started four last season for the Seahawks.

Ravens right tackle Patrick Mekari hurt his ankle in Sunday’s loss to the Bengals and is unlikely to play in Week 9 against the Minnesota Vikings. Second-year lineman Tyre Phillips took over for Mekari on Sunday but struggled in pass protection. The Ravens, who are on a bye this week, are also without star left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) for the season.

The 6-foot-5, 308-pound Ogbuehi has graded out as a solid run blocker the past two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. He allowed one sack in Week 4 and gave up just one last season.

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Denver Johnson & Wales campus already transforming under new owners

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Denver Johnson & Wales campus already transforming under new owners

Five months after Denver Public Schools, the Denver Housing Authority and nonprofit Urban Land Conservancy teamed to buy the 25-acre Johnson & Wales University property in northeast Denver, change is starting.

A pair of affordable housing projects are in the planning stages for the former dorm buildings on the property, located at 7150 Montview Blvd. A major expansion of the Denver School of the Arts on the campus’ west side also is on deck. That project is expected to allow the school to grow by between 500 and 700 students and prioritize students of color and low-income families, officials said when the sale closed in June.

The work follows pledges from Johnson & Wales representatives last year that the university would prioritize buyers dedicated to supporting the surrounding neighborhood

Even before construction crews get started on those projects, new public benefits are starting on the historic property.

Jorge de la Torre, formerly the dean of the culinary program at Johnson & Wales, joined nonprofit shared kitchen and food business incubator Kitchen Network when that organization opened a location on the campus this summer.

Kitchen Network in turn brought in organizations including Work Options, a nonprofit job training program focused on helping people with criminal records and those who are homeless develop kitchen skills, and starting an apprenticeship program with the Rocky Mountain Chefs of Colorado. Partnerships with more than a half-dozen other nonprofits and local restaurant companies are also in place and a 24-hour commissary kitchen is expected to open on the campus early next year, de la Torre said.

“The silver lining is (the campus) just gets a second life to be available to people who may not have been able to afford a Johnson & Wales education,” he said. “We can just reach a larger population.”

Erick Garcia, Kitchen Network’s chief operating officer, said the nonprofit has 150 monthly active users and helped launch more than 60 new businesses this year, as of November. With its Park Hill location, Garcia hopes to triple those numbers over the next five years, reaching a new well of clients on the east side of the city, many of them Spanish-speaking.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Clockwise from front left, volunteer Debby Kaufman-Hoja, Danielle Cooke of Ms. Betty’s Cooking, Ruby Geiger, chef instructor of the Rocky Mountain Chefs of Colorado, and Chef Tajahi Cooke of Ms. Betty’s Cooking season turkeys in the kitchen at the Culinary Arts building of the former Johnson and Wales Campus in Denver on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021.

Across from the culinary arts building, the campus’ historic Centennial Hall is providing St. Elizabeth’s School with room to grow.

The K-8 private Episcopal school, with 140 students, now has the space to double in size, director of finance and operations Kim Johnson said. Part of the school’s mission is to be “intentionally inclusive.” Its student body is 49% students of color and 83% of students get discounted tuition. School leadership saw the Park Hill campus as an opportunity to work alongside organizations with similar values and goals, Johnson said.

Preserving history, providing opportunity

Centennial Hall was completed in 1908 when the campus debuted as Colorado Women’s College, according to Historic Denver. It and the other buildings are part of the landscape and the culture of the greater Park Hill area, said Denver City Councilwoman Robin Kniech, who lives about a mile away from the campus.

Seeing DPS, the housing authority and the Urban Land Conservancy come together and be able to pull off the acquisition was both a pleasant surprise and very reassuring, she said.

On the opposite side of Denver, for-profit development firm Westside Investment Partners is also working on historic reuse and affordable housing projects at the former Loretto Heights college campus on Federal Boulevard, but Kniech said the city had to push for affordability there. In Park Hill, creating affordable housing is a core mission of two of the new owners.

“I believe that our (Park Hill) community recognizes the importance of being able to bring together preservation of historic buildings and preservation of affordable housing options in our city,” Kniech said.

Focus on housing

It may be a while before people can move into the planned affordable apartments.

The Denver Housing Authority views the two dorm buildings it acquired on the property’s south side as an opportunity for “really quick housing,” spokeswoman Keo Fraizer said. Some of the 72 units already have kitchens and private bathrooms. But work is needed and the agency is focused on preserving the historic elements of the building. The agency doesn’t have a timeline for when it expects to open, Fraizer said.

Nonprofit developer Archway Communities cleared an important hurdle earlier this month in its efforts to transform about 400 dorm rooms on the northeast side of the campus into affordable apartments. The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority awarded the project a combined $2.9 million in competitive state and federal tax credits to help fund the work.

Archway plans to tap into historic preservation tax credits and other financing for what is expected to be a roughly $45 million project, president and CEO Sebastian Corradino said. When work is completed — ideally sometime in early 2024 — the four buildings Archway is under contract to buy from the Urban Land Conservancy will be turned into more than 150 subsidized apartments, at least 10 of which will be available to families making 30% or less of the area median income. Using 2021 income figures, that would cap the rent for a three-bedroom apartment at $817 a month for qualified low-income families.

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Colorado’s COVID wave shows signs of receding, though impacts of Thanksgiving and omicron variant remain to be seen

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Colorado’s COVID wave shows signs of receding, though impacts of Thanksgiving and omicron variant remain to be seen

Colorado’s fifth COVID-19 wave may be starting to recede, but it’s too early to know whether spread over the Thanksgiving holiday or the concerning new omicron variant will stall or reverse the progress.

The number of hospitalizations for confirmed COVID-19 across the state dropped to 1,473 as of Monday afternoon, from a high of 1,576 on Nov. 23. Hospitals are still running near capacity, but the state reported more than 100 beds were available in intensive-care units for the first time in about three weeks.

Still, Colorado’s public health leaders are prepping in case those downward trends don’t continue. A group of experts advising the governor on Monday evening unanimously approved an amended document outlining what the state’s crisis standards of care would look like in the event hospitals are completely full and need to ration health care.

“We do want to have these revised recommendations approved… not because there’s any immediate need to activate them, but to have them prepared if the need arises in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Eric France, Colorado’s chief medical officer.

While some people delay seeking medical care over a holiday, Colorado’s new COVID-19 hospital admissions started to decline before Thanksgiving, suggesting the state may have passed a peak, said Beth Carlton, associate professor of environmental and occupational health at the Colorado School of Public Health.

New COVID-19 infections have been trending down and a lower percentage of tests are coming back positive, though the picture may be partly skewed by lower-than-usual testing over the last few days, she said.

“There’s some hopeful news there,” she said.

Still, the virus remains widespread in Colorado, and saying the situation is improving isn’t the same as saying it’s safe to throw away your masks and forget about scheduling that booster appointment, Carlton said.

“The risk of encountering someone with SARS-CoV-2 is still high,” she said.

Two big unknowns remain: what effect, if any, recent holiday gatherings will have on the virus’s trajectory, and whether the recently discovered omicron variant of the virus — not yet confirmed in Colorado — will spark a new wave of cases.

Last year, the third wave peaked in late November, and any effects from Thanksgiving were minimal, Carlton said. Of course, the situation is different this year: more people traveled, but fewer are susceptible to severe disease, with so many having been vaccinated.

“We needed a more general approach”

During Monday’s meeting of the Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee, public health experts explained how the state would expand guidance to hospitals in need of relieving strain in the event they become overwhelmed with patients.

The guidelines adopted last year for crisis situations dealt mainly with how to parcel out life-saving ventilators and ICU beds. The new guidance, which awaits review from the governor, takes into account other factors critical to hospitals’ capacity for care, including emergency room capacity and non-ICU hospital beds along with staffing shortages, dialysis and medication.

“It became clear that we needed a more general approach,” said Dr. Stephen Cantrill, an emergency medicine physician at Denver Health, of the shift from focusing on ventilator availability.

The new guidelines focus on the lowest-risk patients and how hospitals might be able to ease strain by identifying people — particularly non-COVID-patients — who might be able to be discharged earlier than normal to receive out-patient care. These patients can always return to the hospital if needed.

“The perfect system is not that none of them come back to the hospital,” said Dr. Anuj Mehta, a pulmonary critical care physician at Denver Health, who outlined the updated document Monday. “If two or three come back, that’s a win.”

The omicron variant hasn’t been found in the United States yet, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, said it almost certainly will be. He urged preparations, like increasing testing capacity and wearing masks again.

On Sunday, the World Health Organization issued a warning that omicron has a large number of mutations that could allow it to spread more easily, or make it harder for the immune system to recognize that this is a virus it has seen before and should attack. It will take two or three weeks to get enough data to understand how much we should worry about the new variant, though, Carlton said.

The United States, along with other countries, restricted travel from southern Africa, but it’s not clear if those measures will be effective, since the variant already has spread. Omicron was first identified in South Africa, but has been found in 11 European countries, Israel, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and Botswana.

Keeping an eye out for omicron

In Colorado, essentially all virus samples chosen for genome sequencing have contained the delta variant. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s lab and some private labs sequence a random sample of positive COVID-19 tests in the state each week.

The state health department reported it will update its wastewater surveillance program to look for omicron. Testing wastewater can’t tell the state who has the virus — the sample is tested after many households’ and businesses’ toilet waste has come together, and about half of infected people don’t shed virus particles in their stool — but it can give a rough idea of how widespread the virus may be, and which variants are circulating. If a community’s wastewater has a high viral load, the state can send testing and other resources there, to try to get the spread under control.

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“Old technique applied to a modern world” brings rotational cattle grazing to a housing development south of Littleton

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“Old technique applied to a modern world” brings rotational cattle grazing to a housing development south of Littleton

Dozens of cattle, Angus mostly, hoofed their way through the Sterling Ranch housing development south of Littleton last Sunday morning, cowboys at their flanks either on horseback or four-wheelers.

The cattle drive wasn’t off course. Harold Smethills, founder and chair of the development company, said he wants the herd on the property as a way to keep its 3,400 acres as natural as possible.

“There used to be big herds of bison, which, for thousands of years, used to go through, aerate, eat and control the grasslands,” Smethills said. “The cows are doing exactly what the bison used to do.”

The few dozen cattle will soon be joined by perhaps 100 more and the whole herd will spend the winter grazing just west of the development, Smethills said. By living on the land, the cattle will cut the risk of wildfires, boost soil health and provide a more hospitable environment for some of the area’s ground-based species such as burrowing owls.

Then in the spring, the cattle will be taken back to their normal pastures throughout the area and the land will be allowed to freely grow again, Smethills said.

That method is called rotational grazing, said Lauren Connell, director of stewardship for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. And in the past decade it’s grown more popular across the west. Farmers and ranchers typically use rotational grazing, but Smethill’s property is the first time Connell said she’s seen it used at a housing development.

Because this is the first season of rotational grazing at the Sterling Ranch, Connell said it’s too early to tell how effective it will be, but she’ll watch with great interest.

Representatives from the Bird Conservancy, Denver Botanic Gardens and other ecological and engineering experts worked with Smethills to develop his overall prairie management plan for the property, which includes rotational grazing.

It’s a simple enough concept, Connell said. Essentially, three things naturally “disturbed” or destroyed the land in a good way before human development, ultimately sparking regeneration and new growth: fire, prairie dogs and grazing large wild herds, she explained.

Humans tend to kill prairie dogs and work hard to either prevent wildfires entirely or put them out quickly once they’ve started, Connell continued. Additionally, humans hunted the once-massive herds of bison to near extinction.

By reintroducing periodic grazing with herds of cattle, humans can recreate a bit of the healthy destruction and create new life, Connell said.

“It’s an old technique applied to a modern world,” Brian Vogt, CEO of the Denver Botanic Gardens said.

The cattle provide healthy destruction by eating overgrown vegetation, much of which is dead or dying, thereby shrinking wildfire risk, Smethills said.

“So then the worst you get is a little grass fire,” he said. “You put that out, no big deal.”

While the cattle are grazing, their cloven hooves aerate the soil, Smethills said. Clearing out the old vegetation and loosening the soil makes the land habitable for creatures such as prairie dogs, which can, in turn, make the ground more hospitable for burrowing owls native to the area, Connell said.

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Wranglers help push cattle through open space in between housing developments during a cattle drive through Sterling Ranch in Littleton on Nov. 21, 2021.

And what comes in must go out. Cattle excrement fertilizes the soil without the chemicals found in many modern fertilizers.

“The residents do have to put up with that smell but it’s better than a fire,” Smethills added with a chuckle.

In a place like Sterling Ranch,  rotational grazing is a good way to restore the ground to a more natural state, bring back natural vegetation and animals that have been driven away by development, Vogt said..

So many other ranches or farms operate where “everything’s plowed up every year and lots of chemicals are dumped down,” Vogt said, adding that such land management practices aren’t sustainable.

“Soils, when depleted, have destroyed countless civilizations over time,” Vogt said. “Just think about our dust bowl.”

Rotational grazing can not only bring those soils back to life and but even increase the crop yield, he said.

To be effective and sustainable, however, the grazing must be well thought out and intentional, Connell cautioned. The number of cows, time spent grazing and amount of forage available are all crucial factors to consider. Allowing cattle to graze indefinitely could leave land barren or moving the animals too often could drain their energy, she said.

The process also has to be economical for land owners, Vogt added. He noted that not everybody has ready access to dozens of cattle or the know-how to start a rotational grazing program. The Botanic Gardens’ Chatfield Farms is developing a best practices model, which could be used as a reference for anyone interested in rotational grazing, he added.

The approach could be used on large tracts of land and drawn down for much smaller properties, Vogt said. A single homeowner could even use one or several goats to get similar results on their property.

1638277870 523 Old technique applied to a modern world brings rotational cattle

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Wranglers help push cattle through open space in between housing developments during a cattle drive through Sterling Ranch in Littleton on Nov. 21, 2021.

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