On Tuesday morning in Columbia Heights, a small crowd gathered — within the guidelines for mass gatherings in the District — for an event that by any measure has to be considered an act of extreme optimism: A groundbreaking.

Undaunted by the possibility that the building won’t be usable even after renovations are complete in August, the Studio Acting Conservatory forged ahead with a variation of the traditional shovel-in-the-ground ceremony. A bottle of champagne was broken over the front steps — a bubbly endorsement of an uncertain future. But it’s one that Joy Zinoman, the 44-year-old conservatory’s founding director, continues to believe in. The fact is, she has to.

“It’s about resilience,” says Studio Theatre’s founding artistic director. “That’s what this is about.”

A year ago, the acting school, which has trained more than 10,000 students since the mid-1970s, was compelled to leave its headquarters in Studio Theatre just west of Logan Circle, as the theater prepared for its own makeover. That left Zinoman and her faculty of 20 to search for temporary quarters for the program, which offers not only classes for budding professional actors and directors, but also scholarships to young people from low-income households.

Since the stay-at-home mandates in March, the conservatory has migrated to the Web, offering its spring classes online. Ninety-one percent of the enrollees made the shift to the Internet, Zinoman said, and plans call for the June-July curriculum to go online as well.

Over the past several months, though, Zinoman had moved ahead with finding and redesigning a new permanent home, which the nonprofit school closed on last summer. The 6,000-square-foot building on Holmead Place NW is a onetime Baptist church and then Mormon facility that the conservatory purchased for $2.2 million. An additional $850,000 was needed for the renovation drawn up by Debra Booth, Zinoman’s longtime set designer, and architect Jon Hensley. Plans call for a fire engine red facade and two floors of four large studios, an office and lounges for teachers and students.

With the money in hand — including a $1.5 million gift from arts supporters Dan and Gloria Logan and more than 100 other smaller donations — Zinoman took the next step toward what has to feel like the riskiest juncture ever for brick-and-mortar projects.

“It’s an ‘atelier!’ ” Zinoman said with her signature exuberance, during a recent Zoom interview. She acknowledged the leap of faith she’s taking in a couple of gestures: her eyes raised to the ceiling and a chuckle.

At the groundbreaking Tuesday, beamed out on Facebook Live, Zinoman stood before a rostrum at the bottom of the building’s front steps. Behind her on the steps were nine masked men and women, including her conservatory co-directors, Serge Seiden and Kate Debelack, several board members and Hensley. In brief remarks, Zinoman called the conservatory building “a hopeful and sacred place to train artists, actors and directors.” Marvin Bowser, the brother of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and a longtime arts advocate, took a turn from the podium to point out that the physical space for theater is irreplaceable.

“Digital is great, but eventually we have to come together,” he said.

Meantime, the school is trying to keep its virtual doors open as widely as possible. To that end, Jordanna Hernandez, the conservatory’s registrar, announced that the summer session will offer tuition-free spaces in classes to teenagers in need. Studio’s leaders are banking on a literal coming together of students and teachers on Holmead Place sometime after Labor Day.