And, Hopkins noted, the tower and some other structures on the city's list have a value that cannot be measured by market standards alone. "They're what make Baltimore Baltimore," he said. "They're at the core of the identity of Baltimore."

Still, Hopkins is glad the city is at least studying what to do about buildings that in some cases it "cannot or will not, and has not done the best job with them."

Some who have worked over the years to preserve the structures were shocked to find them on the list of properties up for consideration.

Dwight Warren, executive director of the McKim Free Center, said the building is heavily used by youth sports and after-school programs, and meetings for groups such as Narcotics Anonymous. He said there is no way the center could buy the facility, a replica of a Greek Doric temple that was built in the 1800s as the McKim Free School, if the city should try to sell it.

"I know the city is facing many problems, but any consideration of changing what we do here is news to us and would be a challenge for us," Warren said.

Even as the city seeks input on how to use the facilities, some volunteer and civic groups already have conceived plans for them — and in some cases raised funds to put those plans in place.

James D. Dilts of the Friends of the Peale, for example, said the group has raised $40,000 toward a $2.5 million goal to renovate the closed museum and create a center for Baltimore history and architecture. He envisions exhibits, a 2,000-book reading room, an auditorium, cafe and lecture series.

"We're talking to the city now to try to get ready when this consultant's study is done," he said. "We have what we believe is a workable and exciting program for the reuse of America's oldest museum."

Roland Park Civic League president Phil Spevak said his organization has been working with the city to try to turn the site of the Roland Water Tower into a community park, with trails connecting it to other parts of the neighborhood. Residents want the tower's observation deck restored and nighttime lighting, he said.

Spevak plans to share the ideas with the consultant hired by the city to assess the 15 properties. He believes the city will move forward with the association's plans.

"There's been quite a bit of excitement," he said. "I'm not expecting there will be different points of view. I think this is going to happen and it's going to be great for the community."

Donna Ann Harris, a Philadelphia-based preservation consultant, said that generating community involvement, rather than seeking out-of-town tourists, can be the key to saving historic sites.

"In most cases, these are the people who care about the site the most," said Harris, who wrote "New Solutions for House Museums." Among the success stories she profiled in her book was a house in Nantucket, Mass., that, rather than being turned into a museum or bed-and-breakfast, has become a place for local meetings of book clubs and arts-and-crafts groups.

Harris has seen more states than cities try to find private or nonprofit groups to maintain and operate sites, noting that Ohio and Pennsylvania are among those particularly successful in transferring management functions to historical societies.

But any transfer, she said, must come with the condition that a site's history be preserved, because landmarks belong to everyone.

"They really are public entities," Harris said. "It's part of the historic patrimony of the state."

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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