The remains of at least 7,000 people may be buried beneath the University of Mississippi, officials estimate.
The bodies of the state’s first mental institution – called the Insane Asylum – stretch across 20 acres of campus where administrators want to build.
Officials predict that it may cost up to $21m (£16m) to exhume and rebury each body – more than $3,000 for each.
The campus medical centre, where the bodies have been discovered, is looking at cheaper alternatives.
The university, nicknamed Ole Miss, hopes to bring the total cost down by handling the exhumations in-house, the Clarion-Ledger newspaper reports.
They predict that it can be done for $400,000 per year over the next eight years.
They also hope to create a memorial and laboratory where students can study the patients’ remains, as well as remnants of clothes and wood unearthed in the process.
A group of academics have formed a consortium dedicated to studying the remains.
“We have inherited these patients,” said Ralph Didlake, who oversees the campus Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities.