More than three years after Provost Ben Polak introduced the idea of turning the Hall of Graduate Studies into a new hub for the humanities — the transformation has begun.

Amy Hungerford, Faculty of Arts and Sciences divisional dean of the humanities, said on Wednesday that the actual construction of the new center, which is set to finish in January 2020, has entered its initial stages.

The Hall of Graduate Studies closed in the late spring, and the various humanities departments housed there have been relocated. The Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, American Studies and Slavic Languages and Literature Departments are now based in Arnold Hall, while the History Department is housed in McClellan Hall and the East Asian Languages and Literatures Department at 143 Elm St.

In its new form, the Hall of Graduate Studies will no longer include dorm rooms for graduate students. But Yale Housing plans to replace HGS’ 169 dorm beds with 222 beds for graduate and professional students in the newly developed housing complex at 272 Elm St., the renovated Baker Hall, and other locations.

The new center will house 15 different humanities departments and programs, as well as the Whitney Humanities Center, the Directed Studies program, the Yale Initiative of the Ancient and Premodern World and the Public Humanities program. The renovated building, which will maintain the current foundation of the 85-year-old Hall of Graduate Studies but also make some much-needed repairs, will consist of 14 floors, a lower level and a concourse level. It will also incorporate graduate student workspaces in floors six through 13, a common room for first years taking D.S. and other first-year humanities seminars and a movie screening room with 90 seats.

The idea to transform the Hall of Graduate Studies was first proposed in January 2015 by Polak, who formed the HGS Exploratory Committee to study the feasibility and popularity of the potential project. Led by Hungerford, the committee recommended transforming the building into an “iconic humanities destination,” in a report to the provost and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler. An anonymous $50 million gift in January 2016 propelled the project forward.

“We recommend that the University move forward in a visionary and decisive way to realize new strengths in the Humanities through this renovation project,” the recommendation states. “We recognize the potential for this project to help execute President Salovey’s aspirations for ‘a more unified Yale’ and for ‘a more excellent Yale.’”

Ann Beha Architects began designing the building year, a process that continued this summer, even as the University came close to breaking ground, Hungerford said.

The new center was originally supposed to feature a 300-seat lecture hall on its lowest level. But Hungerford said that structural limitations required that level to be redesigned to accommodate a smaller lecture hall, which will seat roughly 180 people.

Still, Hungerford said she was content with the final outcome since the 180-seat hall will be the “perfect size” for larger humanities lectures and events. She said she had been concerned that the hall’s previous design might make it too large for most courses and events, giving attendees the false sense that events and lectures are not well-attended.

Though many relocated faculty members had expressed concern that they would not have room for or access to their collections of books during the renovation, Hungerford said the problem had never “materialize[d]” and called the move “a success so far.”

“Our humanities faculty and the departments’ staff were creative, resilient and collegial as the move out of HGS was planned and executed, and as they experienced the physical upheaval of their offices,” Hungerford told the News.

Chair of the American Studies Department Matthew Jacobson agreed that there was a lot of trepidation in his department going into the move, since it seemed as late as April that the University did not have a “really good plan” in place. But in the end, Jacobson said, it all turned out well.

“Giving credit where credit is due, the University did a good job,” he said.

Tina Lu, chair of the East Asian Languages and Literature department, said that her department was delighted with its new space but “a little sad” that it is not handicap accessible — the only way into 143 Elm St. is up a flight of stairs.

“We’ll have to schedule talks at the library, and we are going to work extra hard to make sure that even if our building isn’t accessible to all, our faculty are,” Lu said.

Hungerford wrote to the News that the University will make the accommodations necessary for accessibility at 143 Elm St. as “the [East Asian Languages and Literatures] Department goes about its daily life.”

Joanne Meyerowitz, acting chair of the history department, said that although her department faced a few minor glitches in McClellan Hall, such as inconsistent internet connection, the problems were fixed promptly, and the space — though “a little cozier than before” — was much nicer than expected.

Jacobson said that he and other faculty members are “a little skeptical” that the renovation will actually be complete by 2020, given how ambitious the plans are. But he called the sketches “pretty gorgeous” and expressed eagerness to see the final result. Hungerford said it is too early to say whether the project will be finished by its projected end date.

“I think it is far too soon to tell whether all the work will go as planned.” Hungerford said. “We hope so.”

Adelaide Feibel |