BRIDGETON - A local preservation society is planning a series of clinics to help people find affordable ways to upgrade homes in this economically struggling city.

A team of architects, designers and others working for the local Center for Historic American Building Arts will present ideas to create what they say will be some "serious impact in real time."

"Preservation is not just for the rich," CHABA Director Flavia Alaya said.

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The city created its historic district in 1983. The district has about 2,000 buildings, making it the largest historic district in terms of number of buildings in the state.

The first clinic is scheduled to be held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in the main reading room of the public library at 150 E. Commerce St. Clinic organizers said they want attract landlords, tenants, builders, people who own historic homes and other to the meeting. Among the things those attending will find are sources of free or inexpensive help to improve their properties.

CHABA officials said their clinics are part of the nonprofit organization's "Historic Home Stewardship Initiative." That program is supported through the city's community development block grant program, the Cumberland County Cultural & Heritage Commission, and a neighborhood revitalization grant from State Farm.

Jerry Lewis, a local landscape architect and CHABA member, said the organization hopes that improving homes can bolster community pride. That can lead to diminished crime and vandalism and help improve quality of life for people of all income levels, he said.

City officials are involved in a major push to improve what was once one of the most successful cities in New Jersey. Part of that plan involves grass-roots efforts to battle crime, litter and other social ills.

The city's downtown business district could also benefit by a $14 million office building Cumberland County government is proposing for Laurel Street.

The building would house the county's social services department, helping to bring what county officials said are more than 200 employees and thousands of people to the downtown area.

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